Friday, January 21, 2011

New Life for an Old Blog

Happy New Year!

It's about time I put some commentary on this blog, though it will mainly be used to showcase my writing talents to prospective publishers. In the links on the right you can see a shortcut to a selection of my Clips, and Published works.

As illustrated; the content I can cover has a broad base, my journalistic techniques are wide ranging, but the writing style is always accessible. I'm easy to work with, efficient, and work well on deadlines. People like to read what I write, so here's your chance to give your readers what they want!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gaelscoileanna - Education through Irish

Copyright, Lora O'Brien
First Irish Publication, Woman's Way Magazine
First Candian Publication, Celtic Heritage Magazine
Rights Available: First International Serial Rights, Re-print Rights, First Regional Rights.
Please email for further info.


Most of us will know, or at least know of, a child who attends a gaelscoil. These Irish-medium schools are those which function in accordance with the usual rules of the Department of Education, just like a regular school, except that Irish is the language of instruction and the language of communication amongst teachers, children and management. In short, everybody speaks ‘as Gaeilge’, all the time. To quote the web site of the voluntary national organisation ‘Gaelscoileanna’; “Irish is the living language of Irish-medium schools, both within the classroom and without.”

There are more than 30,000 pupils receiving all-Irish education in 158 primary schools and 36 post-primary schools (outside the Gaeltacht regions) in Ireland today. With the opening of Gaelscoil Liatroma in County Leitrim, on 1st September 2005, all-Irish education at primary level is finally available in every county. The first gaelscoil - Scoil Bhríde, in Ranelagh - opened it’s doors in 1917, and is still one of the 29 primary and 8 secondary gaelscoileanna which operate in Dublin.

What is the attraction of education through Irish? I spoke to parents, teachers and pupils from around the country, to find out…

In Ulster, 23 year old Community Artist Seán Pól Ó Fhlannigáin started attending an Irish nursery school in 1984. The primary school he attended was the only one in Northern Ireland at that time. Bunscoil Phobail Feirste is in west Belfast, where it first opened in 1971. Seán was also a pupil at an Irish language secondary - Meanscoil Feirste, located on Bóthar na bhFal, or the Falls Road as it is more commonly known, from 1991 on. When it first opened it’s doors, there were 9 pupils. There are now over 600. Catering for an eclectic mix of races, religions and creeds, the Meanscoil is described as “a mixed school of Non Denominational religion”.

Now receiving grant aid and state backing, Irish language schools in the North have come a long way from their beginnings. Like other gaelscoileanna, the first ones in Ulster were started by determined parents. As well as paying fees to cover the teacher’s salaries, buildings, and equipment, the parents did most other things within the schools. This included driving and supervising on school buses, cooking for the pupils, and cleaning the schools. One resolute family made the journey from their home in Derry to the gaelscoil in Belfast every day, a round trip of 150 miles.

Seán says he knew growing up that his school was different, but that he always thought it to be different in a good way. He would hear his peers complain about their teachers, and give them nick-names - while in his school the teachers were known by their first names. Although discipline was important, there didn’t seem to be the same animosity or rancour between teachers and pupils in the Gaelscoil. His teachers also had huge interest in folk music and traditional sports, and so the extra curricular activities available were rich in Irish culture. He remembers little trouble arising from attending an Irish language school, even though Gaeilge is considered a foreign language in Northern Ireland, and there was a time when speaking it would have said more about your affiliations than your linguistic skills. UK government has now recognised that many of it’s citizens wish to educate their children through Irish, and has granted financial aid and status accordingly.

Seán finds his extra language skills to be a definite bonus to his teaching career, and he enjoys the ability to express himself in what he considers to be his native tongue. He still meets with friends who are also fluent Irish speakers, and can often be heard engaged in a comhrá when in his local pub.

In Munster, Catriona Ní Fhiachra has a 6 year old daughter, whom she decided to send to the local Gaelscoil Philib Barún, in Tramore, County Waterford. She gives her reasons for choosing this school above others in the area; “There are small class sizes, which is important because it imparts a feeling of family and community. We get a good range of extra curricular activities, and there is better equipment and facilities than in a lot of other schools. There is the option, later on, of my daughter doing her Leaving Cert through Irish, and gaining extra points. And besides the benefits of gaelscoil educated children being able to pick up foreign languages very quickly, because they are used to multi-lingual study - it is important to keep our own language alive.”

Though not educated in a gaelscoil herself, she says the Irish she does have is all coming back to her now. Catriona is very pleased with the caring attitudes of teachers, and with her daughter’s progress in the school. She says she wants her daughter to go to a school where “everybody knows your name.”

In Connaught, Orla Ní Chuinneagáin was interested in gaelscoileanna even before the new Roscommon bunscoil advertised for a principal in 1999. Having written her college thesis on Irish-medium schools, she was already aware of how things operated when she applied for, and won, the position. She explained the process involved in starting up the gaelscoil; “There was a founding committee, of about 6 or 7 people, who were parents or would be parents. Just ordinary local people with an interest in Irish. With the bare minimum requirement of students, and temporary use of the Girl Guide’s centre as a premises, they raised funds through raffles and events, and received loans from parents (which have now been re-paid) to get things off the ground. The committee visited existing schools, and spoke to those who ran them, in Longford and Ballinasloe. The first planning meeting was in October 1999, they advertised for teachers in July 2000, and the school opened in September 2000.” There is no government aid available until there are a minimum of 17 pupils and a premises, and even then it is only a temporary sanction at first - they help with 75% of the rent.

For anybody wishing to start a gaelscoil in their area, Orla offers the following advice; “Talk to parents who have already done it. Look around established schools, and get advice and aid from the ‘Gaelscoileanna’ organisation ( You will need to apply a year in advance of your proposed opening date. Make sure you have the numbers required, and meet the government standards - they are getting stricter on that now.”

Gaelscoil de hÍde, County Roscommon, recently moved to a new premises with a long term lease, and proudly opened it’s doors to 98 pupils in September 2005.

In Leinster, Cillian Ó Síaghail recently graduated from Scoil Oilibhéir in Dublin. Although the school is only 5 minutes from his house, the closest one available, there was just one other child from his housing estate in attendance with him. When asked if he ever got a hard time from other kids about going to a Gaelscoil, he replied; “They just asked me if we had to do everything in Irish. I’d say that we do, and they’d just say - hate that! They thought Irish was really hard.” And yet, having grown up with an older sister and brother who also attended the Gaelscoil, he was quite used to the language and didn’t find it a problem. In fact, he feels quite confident about his future Junior and Leaving Cert exams in the subject. I was dying to know, after his total immersion, did Cillian actually LIKE Irish? His response speaks volumes; “I’m glad that I know the nation’s real language.”

Pádraig Pearse maintained that a country without language is a country without soul - “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”. He might rest easier knowing that at least 30,000 children are more comfortable with our nation’s language, thanks to their Gaelscoileanna.


Land Rover Ladies

Copyright, Lora O'Brien
First UK Publication, Land Rover Enthusiast Magazine (first of a series)
Rights Available: First International Serial Rights, First Re-print Rights, First Regional Rights.
Please email for further info.


You are bored. Just another rainy Monday morning, dropping the kids to school before you head for work. Waiting at the gates, watching your little ones scamper safely inside, your head is abruptly turned by the vision that slides to a halt a few feet away.

A 1994 Discovery, 300 TDi. Colour uncertain, due to the mud, caked and dripping in the downpour, running in rivulets over the Michelin XZL 235 x 85 x 16 MT tyres… and with the wheel arches trimmed right back to accommodate those monsters! No side steps, or even bumpers, for better off road clearance, and a quick check underneath reveals diff guards front and back, and a snug steering guard. It sports a roof rack from an old Series III that would hold as much camping gear as anyone could want. And a CB aerial! Seriously kitted out for serious off road action, which it has obviously seen over the weekend. As the rain starts to wash this vision of Land Roverness cleaner, the multiple scratches and dents in the once pristine body tell their own tale; one of action and adventure. Parked there beside the shiny town 4 x 4’s, it’s showing them all how a Land Rover really should look.

The pre-school scramble inside the vehicle is done, and the door opens. Two boys are hustled out, followed by the driver. She grins as she notices your double take on seeing HER, and politely pretends not to notice the line of drool you’ve leaked out because of her Land Rover. Dear reader, we would like you to meet Lynda, our first ‘Land Rover Lady’.

Lynda McIlroy is from Carrickfergus in County Down, Northern Ireland. She has been a member of the Northern Ireland Land Rover Club for about 2 years now. She is very much involved in the local scene; attending an event every fortnight, a monthly meeting, and at least 4 weekend camping events during the summer. She is the only Lady driver about 90% of the time, though she reckons the lads in her club would love to see more Lady drivers. Perhaps for reasons best left unsaid, in some cases!

It was her (now ex) husband who first introduced her to the marque, when he bought a Range Rover Vogue SE. This was replaced with a Discovery, and a chance meeting with the Northern Ireland Land Rover Club, at a camp site, led to club membership. At that stage, Lynda was “the passenger and sandwich maker, nappy changer and child minder”. Hard work in itself of course, but it was getting to the stage where she was sick of being the side kick.

That Discovery met with a sticky end when a 30 tonne pile-driving machine fell off a lorry and landed right on top of it, with Lynda inside. She says the Land Rover saved her. It was replaced with the current Disco, which she had a hard time getting used to. She was a nervous wreck from the accident, and had a hard time driving anywhere. The interior was so similar to the first one that it just brought back horrific memories every time she climbed in. But she says of the vehicle: “her and I have conquered a lot together”. With the painful passing of Lynda’s mother after the suffering of Alzheimer’s, came the decision to create a life of her own. She left her husband, but kept the Discovery. About 3 months later she met up with an old friend from the club, who suggested she come back as a driver. So she did, with her sons (then aged 12 and 2) right there with her. The addiction began, for her and for her boys, and now every dent and scratch in that Disco bears witness to the endless fun and achievement of a life with Land Rovers.

Much has changed since then, with the vehicle and with her. Originally there were side steps, bumpers, lovely body work, spotlessly clean interiors, and other luxuries; such as door handles. Quite different from it’s current look. The Lady herself has learned much on the matter of off road driving, with the encouragement and coaching of her fellow club members, and is continually amazed by what her Disco can actually do. She has learned: “how not to bend my steering arm or wreck my gear box, where not to tie my recovery rope, when to keep my windows closed, where to pee and where not to in a club full of men, and how to clean lots and lots of muck inside and out”. Lynda has basic knowledge of what to do in a breakdown, but other than that does not maintain her own vehicle. For this, she is eternally grateful to many people. A whole club full of men who just shake their heads when she asks for help, but of course still do it. A lovely boyfriend who gets well paid for his labour in bacon butties and roast dinners. She also gives credit to two businesses in particular, “4 x 4 Store” and “BLRC”, who have never let her down and have kept her driving even when money was tight going through her divorce. She says they all kept her off roading through the bad times, which was entirely necessary, as off roading was “my escape and my sanity. Yes, I said sanity”.

Lynda feels that the last two years have been nearly the best of her life, due to the off roading. She hates driving cars and would forgive her Disco anything. She says, “I LOVE IT”, and you can’t say it more clearly than that! In her own words: “I reckon I will still be driving some sort of old Land Rover when I am on my pension. Best vehicle on the road. And to all those critics who keep running 4 x 4s down, get out there in the mud and see what you are missing!”

Good advice, from a Lady who’s Land Rover has changed her life.


Woad - An Authentic Resource?

For More Like This, see her at:

Copyright, Lora O'Brien
First North American Publication, Tattoo Revue Magazine.
First Canadian Publication, Celtic Heritage Magazine
Rights Available: First International Serial Rights, Re-print Rights, First Regional Rights.
Please Email Lora for further info.
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Ah, the Celtic tribes - they painted themselves blue with woad and ran naked into battle. Right? Got high as a kite to scare the bejaysus out of their enemy and improve their ferocity because, as we all know, woad is a powerful hallucinogen. Right? We’ve all seen ‘Braveheart’, and the latest ‘King Arthur’ - they even called the people ‘Woads’ in that, didn’t they? Sure, then it must be true…

Some scholars are now questioning the veracity of this belief, but it doesn’t seem to be filtering into the body art or Celtic re-enactment communities with any great speed. Personally, I believe that ancient tribes of Ireland and the British Isles, such as the Picts and more southern Britons, did utilise methods of tattooing and body decoration as part of their battle, spiritual, and even everyday rituals. Herodian, in the First Century CE (Common Era), said of the tribes - “they puncture their bodies with pictured forms of every sort of animals. And this is the reason why they wear no clothes, to avoid covering the drawings on their bodies.” I am inclined though, to at least challenge the ‘fact’ that they used woad to dye themselves blue.

The most often quoted source for this prevalent belief is the Roman emperor Caesar’s recorded description of the Brittani, a Celtic tribe. It has been commonly translated as: “All the Britons dye their skin with woad, which produces a blueish colour and makes them appear horrifying in battle”.(1) The original Latin, however, says: “Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem”. The “vitro inficiunt” could translate classically as ‘stain/dye with glazes’, or ‘infected themselves with glass’.(2) The blue colour he describes could have been caused by body paint rather than tattoos, or it is possible the tribe used scarification techniques or glass ‘needles’ to tattoo themselves. But probably not with woad. Why not?

Woad (Isatis tinctoria). Although it makes a wonderful indigo coloured dye for materials, a safe, biodegradeable natural ink, and is also showing usefulness as a wood preservative; it’s pretty crap as a body paint, or a tattoo ink. It’s extremely caustic - when used as tattoo ink it literally burns itself to the surface, and though it heals fast, it leaves an excessive amount of scar tissue. Alas, none of it blue. The extremely knowledgeable Celtic art tattooist, Pat Fish, is often quoted as saying she believes that Celts used copper as a blue colour and firewood ash or lampblack for a black.(3) Traces of copper based pigments were found on an ancient body, excavated from a bog in Cheshire, UK. This would seem to indicate the presence of copper tattoos of some sort, which would have been coloured blue. Of course, we now know that copper is highly toxic, and would not use it on or in our bodies. From my own experiences with powdered woad, using it as a body paint, I’ve had to mix it with something (I’ve tried hair gel, commercial body glitter gel, and even PVA glue!) to try and get it to stay on at all. Even then it streaks all over the place or just dries up and flakes off. Not entirely reminiscent of a battle hardened warrior. It also doesn’t seem to particularly stain the skin. Perhaps it would stain in certain areas, such as the finger tips or elbows, through prolonged contact. But so would pretty much anything. And besides, blue smudged cuticles and tinted elbows aren’t going to particularly impress anybody, even if you assure them that it’s genuine Celtic woad.

Woad is not a strong hallucinogen. A mild psychotropic, at best. Reports of woad induced ancient battle/modern festival madness must have, to my mind, been greatly exaggerated. All in all, the only real possibility is that woad was used on the battle field as a possible wound cauterising agent, on account of it’s astringent properties.

It’s a nice thought for those of us who are proud of our Celtic heritage - being able to use the same materials or techniques as our ancestors, to look the same or perhaps even produce the same effects. I can see why it can be difficult to give up on. Even if the actual evidence or effect achieved is disappointing at best, and at worst, somewhat risky in the hands of the inexperienced. A possible alternative to woad or copper, which would also have been available at the time, is iron. Julius Caesar, while commenting on early Celtic tribes, said that they had “designs carved into their faces by iron”.(4) Iron could possibly be used to produce a blue coloured ink or dye, if handled by an expert. Don’t try this at home, girls and boys! However, with the sheer beauty of the Celtic flash art that is so freely available now, I’d be encouraging the use of these to connect with or emulate the warriors of old, rather than the crude inks they employed.

After all, the Celtic people were nothing if not highly adaptable. If they had the kind of high quality ink that we have available to us now, I seriously doubt that copper filings, or woad, would even get a look in.



(1) - Philip Freeman, “War, Women, and Druids”, University of Texas Press, U.S.A. ISBN: 0-292-72545-0

(2) - Encyclopedia, Columbia University press (online):

(3) - e.g. In her article for ‘An Scathán’, entitled “Celtic Tattooing: Primitive art form emerges in America”, available online at:

(4) - Julius Caesar, “Commentarii de Bello Gallico”, circa 55 BCE (Before Common Era)

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