Sand Shadow play


My gift to myseIf this Summer was to be in the moment.

I armed myself with my son’s camera.

I found that the camera made me stop and look and be.  And for all the photos I snapped, this one, of a little girl’s shadow in the sand, kind of stopped me in my tracks.

She is  8 years old and lost in a moment….

It transports me back to Ballymacaw c.1975.

Picked up on a Friday by my Aunty Moyra¸ cardboard box at the ready; packed with ham, tins of peaches, sliced bread, packets of oxtail soup, to spend the Summer running wild with the cousins in Coolum, Ballymacaw. Oh and a pound note tucked into my Adidas Rom runners to spend in Rita Dower’s shop or from the tuck shop under the bed; an orangey brown suitcase run by my enterprising older cousin (stocked with Juicy fruits and chocolate éclairs and liquorice pipes and Cadet orange Cadet).

group cove crop

“maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)”

Ballymacaw cove and sand in the sandwiches, building sand dams and fortresses clad with stones and shells to keep the tide out.  Swimming for hours in an ill fitting trés stylish bikini that came in a parcel from America.  Jumping off the Boat Rock; terrified, but going for it.  Fishing off The Point at Coolum with the Atlantic bashing us.

Swimming in the rain, the red rocks dappling purple, watching the raindrops bounce off the surface of the sea and feeling the ping on our skin and tasting the fresh of the rain.

“and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and..”

Taking the short cut home through the fields for the chase from the bullocks, scrambling under electric fences, stopping off to play dares and spin the bottle in the tall barley.

balesRiding high on the baling trailer; holding on tight and singing our heads off.  Eight roundy bales high with a well in the centre to keep us all safe.  Health and safety dept. on holidays clearly.

In the dead of night weeing in the bucket inside – anything more serious meant a trip to the jax outside – toilet across the lane with damp newspaper and a torch.

We had chores too but had ways to escape the boring ones.

There were other options like collecting the water for the day in big plastic containers from a tap across the lane, a heavy start but lighter as you trip and spill all the way back.


Fighting for a chance to get the glass bottles filled with warm milk from  Mick Whelan’s farm,  no spillage just drinkage – the warm hairy cream on the top was always worth scrapping for.


(Warriors need only apply for this one) Emptying the bucket! The wee bucket – nasty but still not as bad as hanging out the wet togs and towels.

ballymacaw collage fin.jpg‘Chez Nous’  was our posh den hideout where we played out the soap operas of the day. Mick Whelan’s car graveyard where abandoned volkswagons became a metropolis, a beetle junk city where we got up to allsorts of no good – the very best of adventuring.

New potatoes in the pot, fresh mackerel spitting, giant crabs screaming in boiling water, me running outside with fingers stuffed in my ears – poor crab.

“and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and”

Shooting and skinning rabbits, once the boys slit one open and the babies were inside, none of us felt like eating it. So we buried it and picked daisies.  We babysat a pig for a day too,  little wonder I became a vegetarian.

And at the weekends my Mam and Dad would come out from town to visit; cards and darts in Whites pub til late and a large bottle of Big Brother red lemonade and Tayto crisps for sharing, my dad saying “you’re as brown as a berry”.

Lying down in the grass and watching August’s star showers, walking across the wet fields in the moonlight with the smell of mushrooms under ground.  Indoors to the gassy SuperSer that kept us warm when the summer nights were drawing in…all in together boys, never mind the weather boys…we head counted 21 one night.

Or that year when we walked all the way back in to town on the Sunday just to make the holidays last a bit longer, our blackberry inked fingernails lasting for days along with the sea salty taste on strands of my hair.

That same feeling is in the air these days, ditches heavy with blackberries signalling that school is just around the corner.

I dunno… something about that little shadow brought it all back to me… threw some light on the past and gave me the gift of time travelling….

So much for me being in the moment.

“For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”


The song in my head – Hotter Colder by This is the Kit. (“it was your own shadow moving through the water….”).

Bits of poem – maggie and milly and molly and may – E. E. Cummings1894 – 1962


Today’s blackberry haul..yummy.

Best playground of all…

a pram

It’s Boatstrand and that time of year again – when tents, children, parents, aunties, uncles, grannys, grandads, camper vans, a silver cross pram and a giant inflatable pink flamingo… descend upon the little fishing pier on the Copper Coast in Co Waterford.

The pier is buzzing and children of all ages line up to be scheduled for sea life saving classes from Irish Water Safety. Class times get set and you turn up and work hard and the rest of the glorious day is yours.

So what do you do when you are waiting to be called for the class?

Because in between classes there is lots of time, time to…well, adults chat and chase children to dry them or smather them in suncream, cook, read, swim, snooze, drink tea, go fishing and chat more,  duck odd rain drops etc..  Fishing boats come and go, a fisherman works away, seagulls circle and squawl, flasks get shared around, barbecues hiss – the sounds and smells are mighty!

man work

And the children? They play and play… they invent worlds and games of their own.  I had the joy of being camped up close to an industrious bunch.  I was fascinated by them so I moved my towel closer to the action.

This is what they got up to…

a tool set

Little fingers took turns in the bucket. Sand & sea water gets moulded into oozy messes dripping between wet busy fingers, smoothing, shaping, forming perfect sand cannon balls – patting them to remove excess water, packing them tight and ready for firing.

a one mud ball


And for a target..

making target

Wet hands scrawl circles high and low on the sun dried pier wall.

The scoring they tell me goes like this –

“See the high circles , blast the outside ring and get 50 points

hit the inside ring straight on and you get 100

the lower circles –  the outside ring gives you 25 points and the inside gives you 50”

a score


making mark in the sand.jpg


A foot draws a line in the sand.

They line up with the weapons.

Negotiating to see who goes first.  “Will we do littlest goes first?” or “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo?” They stick their toes in. Sorted.

They stand in line.

Ready- Steady- Go!  – blast cannons at the wall and score!

a throw

Children of all ages simply lost in the play, in the serious business of it all, messy sensory play.

They invite me into the play cos I told them that I wanted to photograph a speedy sand cannon ball.

They demonstrated and showed me how it was done.  I found myself lost in the play too..

It was pure joyful fun.

I thought how lucky I was to have wandered in their direction. And this was just a side show to the main event.

I thought about all the learning that happens in an informal way – learning without boundaries or supervision.

Chatting, joking and making friends, adding up the scores = Language, literacy & numeracy skills.

Figuring stuff out – size, speed, texture, shape = science, art, engineering and critical thinking skills.

Playing, sharing, laughing, negotiating, taking turns = real life skills.

Albert Einstein said that “play is the highest form of research”. Rest my case.

And all in the great outdoors, the best playground of all, with the sea lapping and a gentle breeze a-stirring.

Pure magic.

What more would you ask of a summer’s day?a mud ball pact

This year, at the end of a busy week, 300+ children  received their life saving certificates from Irish Water Safety (

My daughter had me lying face down on the kitchen floor last night in prep for her finishing exam – lying on the floor “as if” I am in the water and she is saving me. I am in good hands and she is assured and confident.

My song for the week – “Seaside” The Kooks.  Check it out.


 Annual Boatstrand Water Safety week August 2017.

free play in the wild wood


The magic is always there, all you have to do is to take time out in the nature – breathe, close your eyes, count to three, and you will find it.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I passed two little girls playing shop along the Copper Coast.  A handmade sign reading “buns for sale” and a bunch of Camelias in a jam jar caught my eye.  We drove past them, turned the car, rummaged for change under the seats and stopped to be taken in by their wares.

1. Fairy buns with water and sugar icing 50 cent each x 4

2. plus the offer of their last chocolate rice krispie bun for free

3. plus a complimentary sprig of  pink Camelias                                                                  (“nicer than a rose” as Pa Hennessy used to say).

Their chatter catapulted me in to their world, I could have whiled away the day with them with talk of licking syrupy spoons and how sticky a stick is.

With a spring in my step and a ready made picnic I hopped back in to the car. Luckily the ‘just in case’ flask of tea was on board and my best buddy was at the wheel so we continued on, as planned, to the woods.

When we got there, it was teeming with birdsong and growth. We entered in to the electricity of it  – vision, sound, smell, taste, touch, volume turned UP UP UP.  I had set out to switch off but here I was plugging in to this super natural place.   Mother Nature had her merry way with me, cast her spell on me… I lost myself running  through a hideout of  bamboos, found a fairy throne, touched blossoms like candyfloss,  and heard myself, ourselves, laughing out loud – intoxicated.     This is what free play is really all about – to be fully engaged, fully alive, in the moment, in your element.  The picnic of fairy buns with hot tea was the icing on the cake of a day.  “Again! Again!”  and I remember  my own little ones when they were in that enchanted time and space.

So I want to go back “again and again” and sit on that fairy throne and wonder….

I would like to bring my 8 year old self back there and for her to idle in the sunlight, without a care in the world.  I would crouch down beside her and whisper Neil Gaiman’s words in her ear; “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can”.

My song for today is “Mother Nature’s son” by The Beatles for my best buddy x

shop and picnic
unexpected picnic

picnic 4

Did I play today?


It started out with us making something nice to eat.  Me and my two little pals rooting in the baking press for yumminess.   We found cooking apples and porridge oats, so the shout went up for Apple Crumble.  On further foraging from the freezer we excavated some frozen berries –  mmm even more promising –  Apple and Berry Crumble so.  We got stuck in and before you could say “I scream, you scream we all scream for ice cream”, the berry crumble was bubbling over in the oven.   Now here’s a thing, you can’t have hot berry crumble without ice cream.

Back to the freezer, alas, not a spoon of ice cream to be had.  Some quick thinking required.    I remembered a post that I had swiped past on facebook; ‘homemade ice cream in ziplock bag’.

A quick google and we were off again.  We located some cream, some sugar, vanilla essence, ice cubes and salt.  I found one small ziplock bag and made do with a bigger plastic shopping bag to complete our experiment.

The science began. (The theory, allegedly is, Freezing Point Depression).    We had to put loads of ice and salt into the big bag and then put the very simple and pure mixture of cream, sugar and vanilla essence into the smaller bag.  We inserted the small now sealed bag into the heart of the ice and salt in the big bag – shut it tight and… brrr – the salt makes the ice melt and it gets very cold in there.

The next bit was to shake, jump, dance, skip, jiggle the big bag for a non-stop 10 minutes, this I might add constituted a pre crumble work out.  With red faces and an enormous amount of body heat generated, we went exploring into the inner chamber of our homemade freezing unit, and the once liquid ingredients were magically getting it together.  We agreed to seal the bag and dance some more just to be sure.

Just one more song!

Approximately 3 minutes later we dished up the berry crumble and we spooned out solid masses of creamy icy vanilla.

We ate to our heart and belly’s content.  T’was delicious fun, every bit of it.  So yeah, I played today.

The playlist for hopping about to.

Oh so quiet -Bjork.

Magic Spell – This is the Kit.

Let’s Dance – David Bowie

Echo Beach – Martha and the Muffins

Did you play today?


Why is the first step the hardest step of all.  Perhaps it is a step which is stored deep within the body – that first wobbly step.  Was it barefoot, was it seen, was it scared, was it encouraged, was it fun…. I wonder..

Anyway here I am in 2017 taking my first public step in to the world of blogging.  I want to play with the very notion of play. I am going to explore it, to get messy in it,  get lost in it.

In a world gone mad, I find myself drawing on some of the powers of play; transformation, imagination, resilience, creativity. Super powers all of them.   Mr Ralph Waldo Emerson said that  “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”  Imagine if we valued that thought.

Did I play today?   I sure did for I was free and in holiday mode,  I loitered with intent on the beach to write ‘play’ with stones and seaweed lion’s tails in the sand.  I came home to an unexpected house full of little boys bursting with energy so we re-invented a game of ‘ping pong piggy in the middle’ – one tiny rubber ball  with a bounce as unstoppable as their zest for jumping and squealing and I realise that between us we have loads of ‘happy’ talent for we sure know how to play.

The cost?  Nothing but time.

So when your day’s work has eased, when the world wide news is grim, ask yourself “did I play today?”


Soundtrack in my head.

Princess Leia’s Theme – A new hope – Star Wars (John Williams)

Good Morning – Debbie Reynolds – Singing in the Rain