My bloody Valentines

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding 'no' to my Val's gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Irish Examiner February 11, 2012

By Dave Kenny

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of St Valentine’s Day. It’s the patter of thousands of feet stampeding across garage forecourts to buy anorexic flowers. It’s the swell of minor chords on the radio. The squelch of self-conscious snogging and the gentle flop of cards on doormats.

It’s the furious twanging of Cupid’s bow. And the furious twanging of knicker elastic too (if those chocs and roses pay off). It’s a day of teddy bears and pink roses. It’s a day of … unutterable barf.

I detest Valentine’s Day and all its phoniness. My wife’s not a fan either. Not that I would ever gamble on her changing her mind about it. Each year I make her a card and allow her out of the kitchen for a glass of wine, before she does the washing up. (Only joking, missus.)

It’s a marketing construction, like Mother’s, Father’s, Grandparents’ and Crème Egg Day. It’s what’s known as a ‘scripted holiday’, based on what couples are ‘supposed’ to do if they truly love each other.

It’s all about ostentatious displays of affection: flower-laden women comparing the size of their bouquet to the women at the next table… men doing ‘romantic’ things they think will earn them points with their partners. I once knew a wally who proposed to his girlfriend over the intercom on a flight from Rome on Val’s Day. This was despite the fact that they had become engaged three months earlier…

Thanks to Hallmark, young lovers’ expectations are higher than a giraffe’s sphincter on February 14. Every spotty, hormonal teenager dreams that this will be the year when a genuine card arrives. Not one from their mum or granny. That this will be the year that they find their Soulmate. It never is.

I had a schoolfriend who was so embarrassed about never getting a card that he once sent one to himself. It was obvious it was from him because he had really distinctive handwriting. We used to joke that he’d go on an imaginary date, only he was afraid that he’d stand himself up.

If you’re dateless and feeling sorry for yourself this Valentine’s, cheer up. You’re actually luckier than you think. A 2004 study (Morse and Neuberg) discovered that couples were 2.55 times more likely to break up around Valentine’s Day compared with any other month.

Another study (Jessen and Jessen, 1999), showed that cases of suicides increase after February 14 because it triggers serious relationship disappointments. See? Staying in alone in front of Fair City doesn’t sound so bleak now, does it?

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the night if you’re single and looking for a relationship.

1: Drink yourself semi-comatose.

2: Rent War of the Roses, Kramer Versus Kramer, Sleeping with the Enemy and Fatal Attraction from Xtravision.

3: Men: spend the day with your parents and picture yourself in 20 years time.

4: Women: reflect on the fact that most murders are committed by the husband.

I still get a cold sweat when I remember some of my own pre-marital Valentine’s Day Massacres. One of the worst was spent doing a solo gig in McDonald’s. I was dateless and agreed to sing romantic songs to lovelorn punters as they munched on Big Mac’s and tonsil-wrestled. My wages were a tenner and as many Chicken McNuggets as I could eat. (It was the 80s. I needed the money.)

My worst experience was on Val’s Day 1996, when I was trying to impress my future wife with dinner in our village’s swankiest restaurant. I was working part-time after the closure of the Irish Press and living with my parents. Before leaving the house, I’d had a row with my mother, probably about leaving the toilet seat up. Big mistake.

After a nice romantic meal, under a heart-shaped balloon, I called for the bill to discover that I had forgotten my cheque book. I rang home and left a message on the answering machine. Five long minutes ticked by. Then another 20. People came and went. I noticed Pat Kenny arriving with his wife and being presented with a bottle of wine. Nice to be famous, I thought.

Eventually, my mother stormed into the restaurant.

“Here’s your bloody cheque book,” she said at the top of her voice, flinging it on the table. The room went silent.

“That stupid woman on the door,” she fumed, “wouldn’t take it from me. She made me come in here dressed like … this.” It was at this point that I realised that my mother was wearing her pyjamas and slippers. Furry ones. I had got her out of bed. People started to snigger.

She stormed off (silently, as she was wearing slippers) and I melted into my chair. My date had a murderous look in her eye. One that clearly indicated where she was going to shove the heart-shaped balloon.

The following day, a friend asked if we had enjoyed the bottle of  Chateauneuf du Pape he had secretly ordered for us. I told him we hadn’t received it.

“I left it in your name: Kenny,” he said. The penny dropped (this was pre-Euro).

Pat Kenny, if you’re reading this… you owe me a bottle of wine.

PANEL

I crowd-sourced some Valentine’s Day Massacres from Twitter and beyond. Thanks to all who replied:

‘I was pregnant when my boyfriend decided to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. I was feeling really sick but agreed to go for dinner.

‘After the starter, he pushed a ring box across the table. I told him to take it away. He looked shocked but didn’t move. I told him again, but still he didn’t move – and I threw up across the table all over the box. The couple at the next table had ordered blue cheese and the smell was too much for me.’ Jane from Waterford.

‘My boyfriend decided to put a romantic ad in the Irish Press on February 14, inviting me out on a date. The problem was that the date was a ‘couple of flagons of cider down the pier in Dun Laoghaire’. He even used my full name.

‘I still don’t know why I married him.’ Gillian, Dublin.

‘In 1985, I was living in New York and a new boyfriend asked me out to a Mexican restaurant. The weather was awful: snow everywhere. We both drank too many Margheritas and I wound up with sauce all over my face. Never eat tacos on a first date.’ Sinead B, Killiney.

‘It was 1990 and I was still in school and broke. It had been raining all day and I went out to buy a card and a teddy bear for my new girlfriend.  I stepped off the bus near her house and got covered in muck by a lorry. On the way up her driveway, I slipped into the flowerbed and got stuck in a rosebush. Worse still, her dog used that flowerbed as a toilet.

‘Her mum answered the door. I was covered in scratches, muck and crap, carrying a teddy bear that looked like it had been mauled by an alsation. She wasn’t impressed and drove me to the doctor’s to get a tetanus injection. I never saw her daughter again.” Robbie, north Cork.

‘I was married for three years and my wife didn’t get me a card. Instead, she gave me a selection of cream cakes. I’m lactose intolerant and get quite ill when I eat dairy products. The thing is: she knew it. We’re not together any more…’ Daragh R, Tipperary.

‘It was Valentine’s Day 1988 and I was on a first date in an Indian restaurant. After coffee, my girlfriend began rubbing her nose. I asked her if she needed  a hanky. She said, “No, but you do”. I had had the world’s biggest ‘gangly’ hanging out of my nose all through dinner.’ Gareth, Monaghan.

‘My ex sent me our divorce papers by registered post. They arrived on… Valentine’s Day. I thought it was hilarious. I had definitely moved on.’ Ann C, Wexford.

“When I was 10, my parents broke the news on Val’s Day that they were getting divorced. As excuses go, it’s one of the best for getting out of doing stuff on February 14.” C-D.

‘Last year, I went on a blind date. Over dinner, my new friend told me that he’s a black belt in karate. I said I’m not a very sporty type of girl, but I’d like to learn a martial art.

‘He got up from the table and started showing me some moves. Before I knew what was happening, he had me in what he called a ‘Cobra Chokehold’. 

“This year, I’m staying home. Alone.”

 

My bloody Valentines and other massacres

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding 'no' to my Val's gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding ‘no’ to my Val’s gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Irish Examiner February 11, 2012

By Dave Kenny

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of St Valentine’s Day. It’s the patter of thousands of feet stampeding across garage forecourts to buy anorexic flowers. It’s the swell of minor chords on the radio. The squelch of self-conscious snogging and the gentle flop of cards on doormats.

It’s the furious twanging of Cupid’s bow. And the furious twanging of knicker elastic too (if those chocs and roses pay off). It’s a day of teddy bears and pink roses. It’s a day of … unutterable barf.

I detest Valentine’s Day and all its phoniness. My wife’s not a fan either. Not that I would ever gamble on her changing her mind about it. Each year I make her a card and allow her out of the kitchen for a glass of wine, before she does the washing up. (Only joking, missus.)

It’s a marketing construction, like Mother’s, Father’s, Grandparents’ and Crème Egg Day. It’s what’s known as a ‘scripted holiday’, based on what couples are ‘supposed’ to do if they truly love each other.

It’s all about ostentatious displays of affection: flower-laden women comparing the size of their bouquet to the women at the next table… men doing ‘romantic’ things they think will earn them points with their partners. I once knew a wally who proposed to his girlfriend over the intercom on a flight from Rome on Val’s Day. This was despite the fact that they had become engaged three months earlier…

Thanks to Hallmark, young lovers’ expectations are higher than a giraffe’s sphincter on February 14. Every spotty, hormonal teenager dreams that this will be the year when a genuine card arrives. Not one from their mum or granny. That this will be the year that they find their Soulmate. It never is.

I had a schoolfriend who was so embarrassed about never getting a card that he once sent one to himself. It was obvious it was from him because he had really distinctive handwriting. We used to joke that he’d go on an imaginary date, only he was afraid that he’d stand himself up.

If you’re dateless and feeling sorry for yourself this Valentine’s, cheer up. You’re actually luckier than you think. A 2004 study (Morse and Neuberg) discovered that couples were 2.55 times more likely to break up around Valentine’s Day compared with any other month.

Another study (Jessen and Jessen, 1999), showed that cases of suicides increase after February 14 because it triggers serious relationship disappointments. See? Staying in alone in front of Fair City doesn’t sound so bleak now, does it?

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the night if you’re single and looking for a relationship.

1: Drink yourself semi-comatose.

2: Rent War of the Roses, Kramer Versus Kramer, Sleeping with the Enemy and Fatal Attraction from Xtravision.

3: Men: spend the day with your parents and picture yourself in 20 years time.

4: Women: reflect on the fact that most murders are committed by the husband.

I still get a cold sweat when I remember some of my own pre-marital Valentine’s Day Massacres. One of the worst was spent doing a solo gig in McDonald’s. I was dateless and agreed to sing romantic songs to lovelorn punters as they munched on Big Mac’s and tonsil-wrestled. My wages were a tenner and as many Chicken McNuggets as I could eat. (It was the 80s. I needed the money.)

My worst experience was on Val’s Day 1996, when I was trying to impress my future wife with dinner in our village’s swankiest restaurant. I was working part-time after the closure of the Irish Press and living with my parents. Before leaving the house, I’d had a row with my mother, probably about leaving the toilet seat up. Big mistake.

After a nice romantic meal, under a heart-shaped balloon, I called for the bill to discover that I had forgotten my cheque book. I rang home and left a message on the answering machine. Five long minutes ticked by. Then another 20. People came and went. I noticed Pat Kenny arriving with his wife and being presented with a bottle of wine. Nice to be famous, I thought.

Eventually, my mother stormed into the restaurant.

“Here’s your bloody cheque book,” she said at the top of her voice, flinging it on the table. The room went silent.

“That stupid woman on the door,” she fumed, “wouldn’t take it from me. She made me come in here dressed like … this.” It was at this point that I realised that my mother was wearing her pyjamas and slippers. Furry ones. I had got her out of bed. People started to snigger.

She stormed off (silently, as she was wearing slippers) and I melted into my chair. My date had a murderous look in her eye. One that clearly indicated where she was going to shove the heart-shaped balloon.

The following day, a friend asked if we had enjoyed the bottle of  Chateauneuf du Pape he had secretly ordered for us. I told him we hadn’t received it.

“I left it in your name: Kenny,” he said. The penny dropped (this was pre-Euro).

Pat Kenny, if you’re reading this… you owe me a bottle of wine.

PANEL

I crowd-sourced some Valentine’s Day Massacres from Twitter and beyond. Thanks to all who replied:

‘I was pregnant when my boyfriend decided to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. I was feeling really sick but agreed to go for dinner.

‘After the starter, he pushed a ring box across the table. I told him to take it away. He looked shocked but didn’t move. I told him again, but still he didn’t move – and I threw up across the table all over the box. The couple at the next table had ordered blue cheese and the smell was too much for me.’ Jane from Waterford.

‘My boyfriend decided to put a romantic ad in the Irish Press on February 14, inviting me out on a date. The problem was that the date was a ‘couple of flagons of cider down the pier in Dun Laoghaire’. He even used my full name.

‘I still don’t know why I married him.’ Gillian, Dublin.

‘In 1985, I was living in New York and a new boyfriend asked me out to a Mexican restaurant. The weather was awful: snow everywhere. We both drank too many Margheritas and I wound up with sauce all over my face. Never eat tacos on a first date.’ Sinead B, Killiney.

‘It was 1990 and I was still in school and broke. It had been raining all day and I went out to buy a card and a teddy bear for my new girlfriend.  I stepped off the bus near her house and got covered in muck by a lorry. On the way up her driveway, I slipped into the flowerbed and got stuck in a rosebush. Worse still, her dog used that flowerbed as a toilet.

‘Her mum answered the door. I was covered in scratches, muck and crap, carrying a teddy bear that looked like it had been mauled by an alsation. She wasn’t impressed and drove me to the doctor’s to get a tetanus injection. I never saw her daughter again.” Robbie, north Cork.

‘I was married for three years and my wife didn’t get me a card. Instead, she gave me a selection of cream cakes. I’m lactose intolerant and get quite ill when I eat dairy products. The thing is: she knew it. We’re not together any more…’ Daragh R, Tipperary.

‘It was Valentine’s Day 1988 and I was on a first date in an Indian restaurant. After coffee, my girlfriend began rubbing her nose. I asked her if she needed  a hanky. She said, “No, but you do”. I had had the world’s biggest ‘gangly’ hanging out of my nose all through dinner.’ Gareth, Monaghan.

‘My ex sent me our divorce papers by registered post. They arrived on… Valentine’s Day. I thought it was hilarious. I had definitely moved on.’ Ann C, Wexford.

“When I was 10, my parents broke the news on Val’s Day that they were getting divorced. As excuses go, it’s one of the best for getting out of doing stuff on February 14.” C-D.

‘Last year, I went on a blind date. Over dinner, my new friend told me that he’s a black belt in karate. I said I’m not a very sporty type of girl, but I’d like to learn a martial art.

‘He got up from the table and started showing me some moves. Before I knew what was happening, he had me in what he called a ‘Cobra Chokehold’. 

“This year, I’m staying home. Alone.”

 

Celtic Tigger: how Brown Bag and Co are getting the world animated

From Oscar nods to BAFTA nominations, Irish animation is going through a golden age. Dave Kenny spends the day with its ‘poster boys’

Irish Examiner, 10 November 2012

Image

Noddy has a murderous look in his eye. Years of tolerating Big Ears jokes, and driving a car that’s clearly too small for him, have taken their toll on his sanity. He’s snapped. The butcher’s knife in his right hand is poised to strike the retreating pig, Olivia.

She trails a skeletal arm and grimaces. Noddy is Toytown’s Freddie Krueger and this is ‘Nightmare on Elf Street’.

“Maybe we should clean that up before we take the pictures,” Cathal Gaffney advises our photographer. It’s the day after Hallowe’en and some wag has doctored the cardboard cut-outs that hang on the foyer wall of Brown Bag Film’s Dublin HQ.

I’m here to spend a day with the poster boys of Ireland’s world-beating animation industry. If first impressions are anything to go by, it’s going to be fun.

“They’re calling the animation boom ‘The Celtic Tigger’,” laughs studio CEO, Cathal. “I hope it’s not prescient…”

He needn’t worry. The Irish animation industry shows no signs of slowing down. It’s exploded over the past five years and Brown Bag keep throwing fuel on the flames. Last week, they announced that they are making their first feature film. The week before, that they have recreated Peter Rabbit for the BBC. The week before that, that they – and Boulder Media – have been nominated for Emmys.

It’s not all Brown Bag, though. Earlier this year, JAM Media won the Producer of the Year, and Monster Entertainment won European Investor/Distributor of the Year at Cartoon Forum 2012. Irish animators have been nominated for every major gong including four Oscars, four Baftas, and eight Emmys. Irish-made series are being watched by millions of kids globally.

Some of those top-grossing shows include: Doc McStuffins (Brown Bag, Disney Channel, currently the No1 pre-school show in the US); The Happy Hugglemonsters (Brown Bag, Disney, broadcast in 150 countries); Octonauts (Brown Bag, BBC); Roy (Jam Media, BBC); Picme (Jam, BBC, broadcast in 95 countries); Baby Jake (Jam, BBC); Skunk Fu! (Telegael/Cartoon Saloon, BBC/Cartoon Network, sold to 120 countries); Dive Olly Dive (Telegael); Abadas (Kavaleer, BBC); The Amazing World of  Gumball (Boulder Media, Cartoon Network).

The industry is now a central component of our digital and creative economy.  The latest figures, for 2011, show that Irish studios employ upwards of 2,321 people.

€110m was spent on animation productions here last year. €23m on Irish labour costs. The industry is entirely Irish-owned and, as it’s 100pc export-led, has unlimited potential for growth.

Andrew Fitzpatrick, veteran former head of Don Bluth Entertainment and now MD of brand management company, Monster Entertainment, has watched the industry skyrocket.

“When I got involved in the 1980s, there were just two companies producing animation here: Emerald City and Sullivan Studios, which eventually became Don Bluth Entertainment. Now, there are more people working in animation in Ireland than there are in Germany.

“The industry is much stronger now as it’s diverse. It doesn’t depend on one player and the companies involved span feature film, TV, games and commercials. Many of them own the intellectual property (IP) rights to their own original content, which can lead to long-term financial strength.”

Ireland’s success rests with Section 481, which gives generous tax breaks to investors. Andrew believes that retaining the incentive is vital for the future of Irish animation.

“Even though our industry is healthy, we’re likely to face competition from improved incentives in places like the UK. Then there’s the threat of low cost locations such as India and China. We need to ensure that our incentives and cost base remain competitive.”

The threat of cheaper competition coming from abroad doesn’t faze Brown Bag co-founder, Cathal.

“Obviously it’s a consideration for us, but we’ve positioned ourselves as a niche player at the very high end of quality 3D animation. There are not that many companies in the world that have the same infrastructure and expertise as us.

“We’re the premier producer of quality 3D TV animation for kids. Doc McStuffins is the number one preschool show in the US. It’s taken Dora the Explorer off the top spot.”

It’s taken a long time for Brown Bag to get where they are. The studio was founded in 1994 by Cathal and Darragh ‘Doc’ O’Connell. They now employ 150 people and have worked with the world’s biggest entertainment names, including Disney, Nickelodeon, BBC and Silvergate Media.

In 2002 they received thir first Oscar nomination, for Give Up Yer Aul Sins, followed by their second in 2010 for Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty. They have Bafta, Ifta and Emmy nominations for The Octonauts and their TV shows air in 150 countries.

Not bad for two students who dropped out of animation college to pursue their dream.

Has being Irish helped them? Cathal is suprisingly emphatic.

“I’m very proud of being Irish, but Brown Bag Films is an Irish company by geography, not an ‘Irish animation company’. We don’t do the Darby O’Gill stuff and take it globally. That’s not our audience.

“We also don’t do animation for the home market. We can’t do work for RTE as they spend less than 1pc of their independent production budget on animation. It’s a shame, as there’s a brilliant children’s department there. It’s just not given resources.

“I feel really strongly that Irish children have as much right to quality homegrown programmes as their parents.”

It’s RTE’s loss, given the standard of show Brown Bag now produce. It’s a measure of their international reputation that they have been tasked with reinventing one of children’s literature’s most enduring characters, Peter Rabbit. I walk through the warren of studios and desks to where the Bunny Brigade are working.

Director David McCamley and producer Erik Vigneau are checking shots for texture and continuity. It’s painstaking work. Lily Bobtail flits back and forth as she adjusts a picture on the wall of Peter’s burrow. Something the untrained eye could never hope to see is discussed and fixed.

“Everything has to be perfect,” says McCamley, who also directs Noddy. “The fur, the way the characters move. The rabbits must behave like rabbits, although they have been humanised.” On screen, Benjamin hops after Peter and Lily who are walking upright. The realism is extraordinary. The scenery behind them is breathtakingly beautiful.

“We visited Beatrix Potter’s  English Lake District and took thousands of photographs. We wanted to get an authentic Potter feel to the series. It took a year to make the opening,  22-minute Christmas special.”

McCamley suddenly opens his iPad and shows me something I hadn’t been expecting to see: Peter Rabbit’s debut after a TV absence of 20 years. The screen explodes with colour and movement. There are red squirrels everywhere. They fall from their branches like maple leaves in a gale, fanning out across the snow, swarming, running, jumping, jerking…

At their head is a wild-eyed rodent in an aviator’s helmet. He sniffs the air. It’s Squirrel Nutkin – and he looks like he’s been at the Bolivian marching powder.

“He’s a real mad head,” laughs McCamly.

McGregor’s garden is covered in snow. The ‘camera’ traces the flight of a snowflake, passing (and introducing) the various characters before floating through the door of Peter’s burrow. The speed and majesty of the sequence bring a lump to my throat.

Across the corridor, Doc O’Connell is finishing a phone call to the States.

“We’re having a revolution here. It all started with Don Bluth and then took a long time to return with its own Irish twist. The Americans sowed a seed and it took 15 years for it to grow.

“I remember wanting to draw comics in the 1980s. and there was nothing there. Everyone said I was throwing my life away, but I just wanted to draw. My parents were distraught at the idea. But now we’re offering careers that are safer than banking.”

Success brings obvious financial awards, but the creative process always comes first.

“We’re not interested in doing a project unless we’re really drawn to it. We won’t do stuff just for the money. We have to love and believe in it. It has to be something that will reach a lot of people. Something like Peter Rabbit.”

Apart from Peter, there are loads of goodies in development.

“We’ve launched an adult-skewed company called Icehouse and are looking at the computer games market. (Let’s just say there are dinosaurs and Nazis involved.)

“There’s an animated sit-com set in Ireland in development, and another called Midlife Crisis. It’s about a guy who goes away to LA to become an actor…”

How adult will BBF become? “Ricky Gervais, Family Guy, The Inbetweeners. We’re not afraid to push things, that’s why we came up with Icehouse so it doesn’t infect the Brown Bag brand.”

Doc shows me a clip of something currently in development. It’s rude. Very rude. And very, very funny. It actually features a naked dancing president…

So where does Irish animation go from here?

“Education is critical,” says Doc. “Irish animation has been so good at what it does that demand now outweighs supply. Many studios have to outsource abroad. Animation and third-level must make sure that we have enough homegrown talent to feed the industry.”

That’s especially true as Brown Bag are entering the feature film market. Next year they begin pre-production on Night Glider, which will be co-produced with Wind Dancer Films and directed by Doc.

“It’s about a flying squirrel who thinks he’s a superhero,” he says. “It’s like Kick Ass with squirrels. It’s very cool and very funny.”

Very cool, very funny and nuttier than squirrel crap. Just like Brown Bag, I conclude, as I avoid Noddy’s murderous glare on my way out.

Link to original article: http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/animation-nation-brown-bag-213412.html

When a town shuts up shop

Picture: Maura Hickey

 

 

Irish Examiner, Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The closure of up to 100 businesses in Dun Laoghaire since 2008 has torn asunder the landscape of my youth, says Dave Kenny

It’s high tide at Sandycove as I start strolling into the past. A small girl is paddling on the tiny beach, despite the raw October weather. She’s wearing a padded anorak.

Two middle-aged women emerge from the waves like a pair of shrivelled, purple Venuses and splatter across the flagstones to their towels. Rainclouds are tumbling in over Dublin Bay and still bathers refuse to accept that summer’s gone. People swim here all year around. Generation passes its towels on to successive generation. Recessions may come and go, but Dun Laoghaire people will always have the sea.

The financial crisis has broken our town. Up to 100 business have closed since the boom-bust. Many were landmarks of my childhood. Today, I’m walking from Sandycove through the town’s main thoroughfare, remembering those businesses and what they meant to my peers and I.

The first casualty appears in Glasthule. The old Forum cinema is now a supermarket. Movie posters have been replaced with posters advertising deals on meat and veg.

The Forum was the epicentre of our youth. Live and Let Die, Star Wars, ET, Superman, Rocky I,II,III… all watched through a haze of smoke, over cardboard tubs of rock-hard ice cream.

The most important night of my life took place in The Forum. My wife and I went on our first date there, 20 years ago next week. The lucky thing. Now the Forum is a bland Centra, topped with apartments – a victim of the build-them-high boom.

Further down the road, I pass the door of what used to be a dress hire shop. I rented my Debs tuxedo there. I nearly had a heart attack when I brought it home just before the dance. It was appalling: all Liberace frills and elephant ear lapels. Not even the most desperate cabaret singer from the Noggin Inn would have been seen dead in it.

I didn’t have time to bring it back and can still the look of horror on my partner’s face when her parents answered the door to me. To this day, I’m convinced I heard someone say “Jesus, it’s Sonny Knowles”.

I move on. Across the road, my old school, Presentation College, stares dully back at me. It closed a few years back, just before the crash. Dun Laoghaire Tiger children, presumably, were above going to a non fee-paying school.

I stroll on through Summerhill Parade, where I kneeled beside a dying friend 20 years ago and past the People’s Park. I try to remember which front belonged to the Pierrot Snooker Club, where we played Asteroids and PacMan. Is it the shop selling Asian food?

I pass McDonald’s. It opened to great fanfare in 1979. I cut out a voucher for a free bag of ‘fries’ from Southside Newspaper and we cycled from school to taste this exotic new piece of oily Americana. Somehow, I managed to annoy a gang of Skins whose leader loafed me and stole my schoolbag. We later found it in the ornamental pond in Moran Park, drenched in wino pee.

The pond is gone now. So is the lawn bowling club it overlooked, with its ancient members playing elderly marbles in their whites. The trees surrounding it, where we swung doing monkey impressions for the bowlers, have been uprooted to make way for a new super-library. All that timber and grass gone to make way for more concrete. Just what the town needs.

The old Bank of Ireland building is still unoccupied. BofI moved across the road years ago and yet the buidling is still empty. I remember opening an account there with my confirmation money. I can still feel the thin blue deposit book in my hand. I ran up my first debts there too.

Between McDonald’s and Dunnes, there is a run of empty shops. I cross over to the shopping centre. A key scene in The Snapper was filmed on its escalators in 1993. The one where Mr Burgess shouts “I love you, Sharon!” You can just make out O’Connor’s Jeans Shop in the background. It’s closed down now.

O’Connor’s was the most important clothes shop of my youth. It had every style of jeans imagineable as it was dedicated solely to denim – a new concept back then. Prior to its arrival, my mother used to take me jeans-shopping to another place down-town which only had stock from the Bay City Rollers era.

I bought a pair of 501s in O’Connor’s and finally became fashionable.

I walk across the cobbles on lower George’s Street, to where Connolly’s shoe shop used to be. Connolly’s was quintessentially Dun Laoghaire. In the ’80s, people would arrive early at The Forum just to laugh at its advert, which was always screened before the main film. The same ad ran for decades, proudly ignoring fickle fashion and proclaiming the beauty of patent leather and buckles.

I got my first pair of Clarke’ Nature Trekkers in Connolly’s. They were brown with piping. They measured my feet in a metal machine that looked like an old credit card imprinter. Nature Trekkers were supposed to last forever. I saw myself splashing through pools and up forest ravines…

“You better keep those clean,” my mother would say, interrupting my day-dream, “or I’ll have your guts for garters.”

Yards away, on the corner, there’s a new toy shop. It used to be Knowles Electrical, which closed in 2011 after 47 years in business. Knowles was an institution. If it had a plug, it sold it (except for baths, naturally).

My mother recently gave me her old Knowles’ electric whisk. I can still taste the cream it whipped to fill sponge cakes for Sunday teas in front of Glenroe.

Finally, I come to the crossroads at Cumberland Street. There are more dead-eyed buildings here. The Cumberland Inn, once a landmark pub, is derelict. Across the road is the Dole Office. I remember the traffic between the pub and ‘the labour’ in the 1980s. I signed on there myself in 1995, when the Press shut.

It’s a fitting place to end this journey.

Dun Laoghaire is struggling. Towns across Ireland are suffering the same fate. The recession isn’t just ruining ‘businesses’, it’s demolishing landmarks and lives. Shops are not just places where you buy things. Alongside the shoes, jeans, books or veg, there are rows and rows of memories.

If a town has a heart, then its shopfronts are its eyes. Bright and inviting when open, dark and depressing when closed. Look into a blacked-out window and all you see is your reflection looking back at you.

It’s not all bleak, however. Recessions may come and go, but Dun Laoghaire will always have the sea to enjoy. And the ferry to Britain, for those who are young enough to take it.

If you like this post, then please go to http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/humaninterest/when-a-town-shuts-up-shop-213167.html and share the original, shorter version

Return of the Dub in a Tub

Sunday Independent, 1 September 2012

Rob Dowling lived out a bizarre dream when he sailed down the Amazon in a bathtub. Now, after a series of personal tragedies, he’s going back to South America to raise money for a children’s charity. But there’s more bad news, says DAVE KENNY: his tub has been kidnapped by Colombian terrorists

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It’s May 2006, and Dubliner Robert Dowling has a splitting headache and a furious itch. He has just woken up in the gutter of a Peruvian town beside a mangy dog. He is wearing a life jacket and a cowboy hat (Robert, that is, not the dog). He is hungover to the point of insanity, and flea-ridden.

It’s hardly the most auspicious way to start an epic adventure, but Rob grabs his hat and hits the jetty to begin his solo sail down the world’s most hostile river, the Amazon. In a bath tub. ‘Rob the Dub in a Tub’ will set one of the bizarrest world records ever, but today he just needs to find some paracetemol.

Rob’s dream of sailing down the Amazon in a bath dates back to a pub conversation when he was in his 20s.

 “Myself and my mates were discussing things we’d like to do before we die,” he says. “I joked that I’d like to travel down the Amazon in a tub. Twenty years later, I did just that.”

 A series of life-tributaries led him to the world’s joint-longest river. The catalyst was a deep depression left by the break-up of his 22-year marriage.

“I was alone and miserable. The family home had been sold off and I was in my mid-40s on the edge of despair. My life as I knew it was over. No-one else was involved. It just ended,” he says.

“I had two choices: stay depressed or patch myself up. I felt emasculated by the divorce. I wanted to do something that would give me back my masculinity. Something really challenging.

“I sail as a hobby – even though I can’t swim – so I decided to test my nerve and boating skills by making the bath journey. I had a good job with Tayto and had some money left over from the house sale, so I started planning my adventure.”

That adventure would see him fleeing murderous guerillas, cut-throats, crocodiles and witch doctors. He would also meet some extraordinary people, including a small, paralysed Indian girl who turned his life around.

It’s a journey Rob’s about to undertake again, hopefully, next month. He had planned to go last January, but a personal tragedy of devastating proportions stopped him. He chokes as he begins to describe it and it’s left until later in the interview to discuss. Despite this, he now feels he is emotionally ready to return to the Amazon.

Two weeks ago, Rob received a ransom message from Columbian narco-terrorists, FARC. The most feared group in South America have kidnapped something very precious to him – his bath tub. He needs to go back to the Amazon to rescue it.

“No, I’m not nuts. I’ve been through a lot with that bath. It’s very special,” laughs Rob.

“I bought it in Peru. Then I got a team together. We housed it in a steel frame, with fuel and water barrels on either side, and a 15hp outboard engine.

“Everyone thought I was mad and would drown. An English missionary told me not to worry about organising for my remains to be flown home if I was killed. ‘The piranhas will take care of that’, he said.

“I planned to travel 5,471km solo with a GPS and a satellite phone. I set off from Iquitos in May 2006. The support boat was to stay with me for five miles, but got into trouble after two. I had to tow it into a town behind my bath. It was some sight.

“I’m not a huge drinker, but that night we were treated as celebrities and drank our way through the town. This was drug country: there were guys with mirror shades and scars everywhere. I was wearing my Stetson, life jacket and shorts – it was asking for trouble, so I decided to call it a night.

“The support team had taken over the boat and the bath. I spotted a mangy dog in a gutter and lay down beside it. I knew if anyone tried to mug me it would bark and wake me.”

A few hours later, Rob started his journey. He made it three miles before he ran into a storm.

“I thought I was going to die. My lifejacket was useless [airport security had confiscated the gas cannister], I was hungover with swirling waves battering my little bath. I was terrified I’d be bashed off the rocks.

“I weathered it in the end and continued chugging along, being eaten by mosquitos and avoiding bandits. That first night, I pitched my tent near a village. The children were the first to visit me. Once I had given them some of my sweets (they had never seen sweets before), the parents started to appear.

“A family took me in and looked after me. It was typical of the hospitality I was to experience along the way.”

Rob also experienced some of the grinding poverty the river children have to endure.

“I have two sons, Colin and Mark. I love kids and the lack of basic facilities for them there is horrific.”

One evening as he pitched up on the bank, he got a satellite call to tell him that the Brazilian navy didn’t want him to travel any further. He was in FARC country.

“I sensed I was in danger. One of the local boys kept making the cut-throat sign with his hand and saying ‘gringo’ to his friends.

“The villagers begged me not to continue. One local offered to guide me past the FARC camp but I knew he was setting me up to be robbed. My $4,000 engine was worth 10 years wages to these people.

“I headed off before dawn, as fast as I could, for the Brazilian side of the river. Later that night, I slipped past the guerilla stronghold unnoticed. I was scared out of my wits. I could smell and see their cooking fires as I passed by.”

Rob’s journey ended after 500 eventful kilometres. He had letters of safe conduct from Peru and the blessing of Amazon charity, Caritas. The Brazilian navy, however, didn’t want him on the river. His adventure was over. Deflated, he donated all his equipment to help the children of a nearby village.

“I then spent a month boozing in Rio. I was really hurting over not being able to continue.”

Once back in Ireland, Rob won a Best of Irish Award for his achievements.

“Everyone wanted to see the bath, but I’d left it behind. So, the following year, I headed back to get it. It had grown legs. I travelled into Colombia and was told it had been sold for a cigarette by a woman who thought it was possessed. It was hidden in the jungle somewhere.

“I returned to Peru really disappointed and accepted an invitation to go on a field trip with Caritas into the rain forest. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The experience completely changed my life.

“We visited a remote village and there, in a small mud hut, I met a child called Jazmin. She was 12, malnourished and paralysed from the waist down. She had open sores on her body. I was furious that a child should have to suffer like that without proper care.

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“Caritas advised me to get medical help for her rather than give cash to her family. It really pissed off the witch doctor who was ‘treating’ her.

“We sent her to Iquitos for tests and I did what I could before heading home. I tried to get on with my life but I kept seeing her face. I phoned a friend in Peru who said she was dying. With the help of friends, I raised €4,000 for her.

“It wasn’t enough, so I hired a nurse for her. Then I bought plane tickets for her to travel to a children’s hospital in Lima with her mother. She spent months there getting well.

“Jazmin brought out something in me. The desire to help kids like her became all-consuming. My mission now is to set up a medical centre on the river to bring these kids a better life.

“To do this, I have to raise funds. I had a successful holistic healing business which I neglected while concentrating on Jazmin. I’m broke. I’ve been to Peru seven times and spent $40,000 on my bath to-date. Each journey costs around €5,000.

“I want to return to Colombia and rescue my bath. When I was last there, I was told that FARC would give it back for $200. I met them and it went up to $600, which I didn’t have. I was told last week that they’re willing to talk again.”

Rob needs a sponsor to help him get there. “Someone who believes in savouring life” like he does.

“When I get the bath back I’m going to finish the Amazon journey. Then I’ll take it up Kilimanjaro, through Death Valley and paraglide it from a volcano in Peru. I’ve worked out the logistics. Those trips will raise the funds I need to set up my centre.”

On paper, those plans look mad, but Rob speaks about them with disarming determination and honesty. The latter is a quality he has in abundance. He opens up and reveals that 2011 was a nightmare year for him.

In the Spring, he lost his father to cancer. In the Winter his best friend committed suicide. In the Autumn, his son Colin (24) emigrated to Australia for two years. His other son Mark (26) made plans to follow him. Losing your sons for two years must be very tough.

“It gets worse,” says Rob, his voice suddenly cracking. He pauses.

“Mark died.” He crumples in on himself, overcome with grief. Wave after wave of it hit him as he tries to talk about the death of his son, just seven months ago. The man who has weathered the Amazon is rudderless in his own private tempest.

 “He had gone to a New Year’s Eve party with friends. He didn’t make it home. I can’t say much about it as there is going to be an inquiry. Everybody loved Mark. He was bubbly and kind. He was never in trouble. It was just that his time was up.

“When I heard the news, I went down to the estuary in Donabate and screamed like a banshee, ‘Why?’ He was a beautiful soul with his life before him.

“I met Mark for dinner at the end of December. I had intended to head out to Peru just after Christmas. I thank God that I didn’t have the finances to go. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had that dinner with him. It was the last time I saw him alive.” He pauses again.

“Well that’s that,” he says with an air of finality that is as unconvincing as it is moving. He is trying to master his grief. Each time he speaks it’s as if someone is punching him in the stomach.

“When you lose a child you join a very exclusive and painful club.” He winces again.

Life seldom has tidy endings. Rob once conquered the mightiest of rivers in the frailest of crafts. He saved a dying Peruvian girl. It’s an uplifting story, but it doesn’t end there.

Now, he is navigating through the unfamothable pain of losing his own child. Despite that pain, he wants to return to the Amazon to rescue more children. And to visit Jazmin.

Life is never tidy.

The day after Rob was interviewed for this article, he received news from Peru. It was about the frail little “daughter he never had”.

Jazmin had died.

 

Email: Rob@amazonchildren.com

http://www.amazonchildren.com

  

 

 

 

 

‘The real Shane Clancy was not a killer’

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Leonie Fennell is continuing her fight to show how prescription drugs drove her son to kill

By Dave Kenny
Sunday June 03 2012

Three years ago, a young Trinity student drove to Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt and bought a block of knives. It was nearly five in the morning, but no questions were asked. Shane Clancy, 22, was sober and respectable-looking. Not the usual knife-carrying type. He may have been a chef on his way to or from work.

Shane then drove to the quiet residential area of Cuala Grove in Bray where he unleashed an attack of psychotic proportions on his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. Sebastian Creane, also 22 and a talented and popular young student, died from a knife-wound to the heart. His brother Dylan was stabbed nine times when he came to his aid. Jennifer Hannigan, the young woman at the centre of the fatal ‘love triangle’, was stabbed in the back but managed to escape and raise the alarm.

The following afternoon, August 16, 2009, Shane Clancy’s body was found in the back garden at Cuala Grove. He had stabbed himself 19 times.

Saturday night knifings are not rare in Ireland any more. What made this murder-suicide particularly shocking were the subsequent descriptions of Shane Clancy as a gregarious teetotaller whose life revolved around family, study and charity.

He had no history of mental illness or violence and was a model student, entering his final year of Irish and theological studies. He lived in a flat in Dalkey, with a support network of cousins nearby.

He regularly saw his father Patrick, who lives in Dun Laoghaire, and his mother Leonie, who lives in Redcross, Co Wicklow, with her second husband Tony and their three children.

What made this sweet-natured young man’s personality change so dramatically in a matter of weeks?

“That was not Shane,” his mother Leonie Fennell says with conviction. “The real Shane could never have done such a terrible thing. He wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Something changed in him in the weeks leading up to that night.

“Shane was the nicest, kindest, funniest guy. He was adored by everyone. He had a huge passion for the underdog, especially the homeless. We regularly had Christmas dinner late because we had to wait for Shane to finish up handing out dinners to the needy in Stradbrook rugby club,” she explains.

“On his 21st birthday, he asked guests to put donations in the Vincent de Paul box instead of giving him presents. That was the real Shane. His Irish lecturers in Trinity called him ‘an chroi mor’. Shane couldn’t have done what he did if he was in his right mind.”

Shane was the eldest of Leonie’s six children: Liam, now 24, Jake, now 21, Jack, now 14, Henry, now 8, and Lucy, now 4.

“He really loved his brothers and sister. Henry, our then five year old, was the apple of his eye. He was the centre of Henry’s world. Shane adored children.”

The inquest into Shane’s death returned an open verdict. The jury rejected an option of death by suicide but found that he died from self-inflicted injuries. It wasn’t satisfied that he had intended to take his own life. Shane had toxic levels of the SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) anti-depressant, citalopram, in his system.

Leonie believes that the drug was the reason for her son’s personality change in the lead-up to the events of August 16, 2009.

She is not alone.

The former assistant State pathologist who carried out Shane’s post-mortem expressed his concern about the link between anti-depressants and suicide at his inquest. Dr Declan Gilsenan said he had seen “too many suicides” after people had started taking the drugs. He questioned whether GPs were over-prescribing them.

Another expert, Professor David Healy, maintains that the pharmaceutical industry is being protected by psychiatry who “state in public that not only did the drugs not cause a problem, but that they cannot cause a problem”. Healy said that in a small, but significant, minority of patients, using anti-depressants can give rise to suicidal and violent behaviour.

Leonie took Dr Gilesenan and Prof Healy with her to meet Kathleen Lynch — the minister with responsibility for mental health — last week, to warn her about the side effects of SSRIs.

“Since that meeting, the Government is accountable the next time there’s a shooting or some young person goes and does something suicidal or violent while on these drugs. It’s been brought up in the Dail, the Seanad and in Leinster House. Nobody can say they weren’t warned,” she says.

Leonie’s campaign has drawn strong support from the US and Canada where there are numerous documented cases of the adverse effects of SSRIs. Her work has also led her into confrontations with members of the psychiatric profession here. She is telling her story in the Sunday Independent today to highlight her fight against big pharma and the drug Shane was prescribed prior to August 16, 2009.

It’s important to point out that Leonie will not talk about the Creanes or Jennifer Hannigan. She is anxious not to cause them further pain. This is her story. She is compelled to talk about Shane so that other families don’t suffer the same fate as theirs. Neither the Creanes nor Jennifer were asked to contribute to this article. They have a sympathetic forum here, should they ever wish to avail of it.

Shane’s spiral into depression began in spring 2009. He and Jennifer had been going out with each other for three years. In March, he decided to end the relationship — a decision he later regretted. He became increasingly depressed, telling Leonie — and anyone who would listen — about his broken heart.

Jennifer told his inquest that when she started dating Sebastian Creane, Shane began to change “in the way he walked, talked, everything”. As the weeks went on, Shane’s depression deepened.

He cancelled a trip to Calcutta with the charity, Suas, and was left with the whole summer free. At his family’s suggestion, he booked a recuperative trip to visit his cousin in Thailand, en route to Australia and the US. Initially, Shane’s mood seemed to be improving and his family believed his depression was lifting. It wasn’t.

He flew on to Australia and the US, but came home early. Leonie took him to a doctor on July 18. He was told to exercise and eat properly for a week to see if that made him feel any better. A week later, she took him back to the clinic, and on July 27, he was prescribed a month’s supply of the anti-depressant, citalopram 20mg.

“He took them as prescribed but after the first few days began to get agitated. On July 31 he said his tongue felt very swollen, which is a side effect of citalopram. He also said he thought he had the ‘flu. This is consistent with the effects of the drug,” says Leonie.

On August 5, Shane took the remainder of his month’s

supply of tablets in a suicide attempt. He slept for 24 hours.

“When he told me what he had done, I asked him: ‘but who’s going to take care of Henry? Who’s going to take him out if you’re gone?'”

Leonie took her son to another GP who was told that Shane had taken a high dosage of citalopram two days previously. The GP prescribed a three-week course of the drug at a lower dosage. That was one week before the events at Cuala Grove.

The night of August 15 began with a visit with friends to the Eagle House pub in Glasthule, where Shane and Seb ended up in company together.

“Shane hadn’t wanted to go out, but his friends insisted,” says Leonie. “They thought it would cheer him up.”

The group later went to the Vico Club over the Queen’s bar in Dalkey. Two friends of Seb Creane said Shane was “extremely quiet”, but later he offered to take them home. Shane dropped his other passengers off and drove Seb to his house. He was subsequently asked to leave when he asked for a knife or a scissors to fix his shoe.

He then went to Dunnes Stores and bought a block of kitchen knives. He returned to the house, where he stabbed Seb, Jennifer and Dylan before taking his own life.

Leonie’s recollection of the morning she received the news is fractured and surreal.

“Someone, I think it was Shane’s dad, phoned me about 10am to ask if I knew where he was. Then two guards came to the door asking to see Shane. I said he was probably in Dalkey. They said there had been an incident in Bray and somebody was dead. Shane was involved.

“I just presumed that they had got it wrong. Shane could never hurt anybody. If he had, then he would be dead by now, I said. He would have walked into the sea.

“About 1pm, one of guards went outside and I saw Tony coming in. I just knew by looking at his face. He didn’t have to say anything. This noise came out of me. I don’t know where it came from. I’d never heard it before or since.”

The funeral in Dalkey was an, understandably, low-key affair. Shane’s friends and family said their farewells, while trying not to be disrespectful to the living.

“My brother wanted to do a reading which said ‘you’re an inspiration to us’. Someone said: ‘you can’t say that’. It’s always in the back of your head that there are other people involved. It had to be toned down. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do.

“I would be a million times more vocal about the side-effects of SSRIs if there weren’t other people involved.”

Leonie is treading on eggshells. After Seb Creane’s inquest, his family said they took issue with evidence which they claimed “ascribed fault to prescribed medication” Shane had been taking. This medication is at the heart of Leonie’s campaign.

Her appearance on the Late Late Show in October 2009 — and claims by psychiatrist Dr Michael Corry that the side-effects of anti-depressants can “tip somebody into suicidal and homicidal behaviour” — drew a storm of criticism from the psychiatric community. It was counter-claimed by the Irish College of Psychiatry that there was “no evidence” to link SSRIs with violence. It said that Dr Corry’s comments may have stigmatised people using anti-depressants to successfully combat their condition. Leonie is resolute.

“These SSRIs can cause severe reactions in some people, leading to suicidal or homicidal impulses,” says Leonie. “It’s well documented in the States where they carry ‘black box’ warnings. That’s the sternest type that a medication can carry. It appears on the label of a prescription medication to alert you to any important safety concerns. In Ireland, anti-depressants are being handed out like Smarties without the same kind of ‘black box’ warnings.

“When it comes to cocaine, crystal meth, or LSD, we have no difficulty thinking a drug might contribute — the drug is guilty and the person innocent. But in the case of prescription drugs, the drug is always innocent and the person guilty.”

Leonie has taken up studying law “because I think it’s the best way of discovering how big pharma is, literally, getting away with murder”.

Throughout the interview, there is the over-riding feeling that Leonie is very good at putting on a brave face.

The veneer cracks occasionally and the strain of what she is going through becomes apparent. She is trying to make sense of Shane’s actions, while mixing sympathy for his victims and grief for the son she has lost.

“How could Shane do that to someone else’s family? How could he stab himself 19 times?”

There have been occasions when she has felt close to collapsing.

“Friends of ours are farmers and there are some days when I would like to ask: ‘Is it okay if I go up to that field where nobody can hear me and scream?'”

Leonie still feels Shane’s presence. “A few days after he died, I was lying on the bed with Tony in front of me and Henry behind me, spooning. I was half awake and it was like Shane had his two arms around me. It was so weird and I didn’t want to wake up although I knew it wasn’t him. It was so real.”

After Shane’s death, she gave most of his belongings to his friends and Oxfam.

“I still have a lot of Shane’s things, like his T-Shirt,” she says. “The one he took off the night before he went out. I hold it and smell it all the time. It’s probably filthy now … stained with my tears.”

Leonie sounds apologetic, embarrassed by the admission. She pauses and looks briefly at her handbag. That glance reveals something unexpected. Something incomprehensibly sad.

“I know it’s stupid,” she says, “but I carry that T-shirt with me everywhere I go.”

http://leoniefennell.wordpress.com

– Dave Kenny

Terrible lie by troubled teen led to horrific death

A tragedy not unlike a John B Keane novel has blighted the lives of loving, heartbroken parents Lotte and Denis Lyne

Sunday Independent, 13 May 2012

Stephen Lyne was just 17 when he bled his life away on a grass verge, metres from his home. He had been stabbed in the back after being falsely accused of raping a teenage girl. The girl later admitted her claim was “a blatant, disgusting lie”.

His killer, Shane Regan, will never be brought to trial. In August 2010, he died after falling down the stairs of his rented home. Regan – also 17 at the time – was a distant cousin of Stephen’s. That relationship counted for nothing when he drove a knife 11.5cms into his victim’s body in a Kerry laneway on June 18, 2009.  The chain of events leading up to that night wouldn’t seem out of place in a John B Keane tragedy.

“Stephen never knew why he was being killed,” his mother Lotte says. “He kept asking Regan ‘Why are you doing this, cousin?’ Regan gave him no explanation.”

The girl who cried rape – Jessica Klok – was then 15 and going out with Regan. In March, she apologised for her lie during the trial of Martin Ollo (19).  The Estonian student, of An Doireann Aileann, Killarney, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiring with Regan, of Droumkerry, Fossa, Killarney on the nights of June 16/17 and June 17/18  to assault Stephen, causing him harm.

On March 2, Ollo was found guilty of the first charge and given three years at Tralee Circuit Criminal Court. Before sentencing, the judge acknowledged that he had not intended for Stephen to be killed and was not directly responsible for his death. The trial had heard that Ollo did not know Regan had a knife  on the night Stephen died.

The pair planned to lure Stephen to Scrahan Mews, off Ross Road, on June 16 so that Regan could give him a beating.

“Martin Ollo came on a family holiday with us. We travelled across Europe for a month. How could he betray Stephen like that?” asks Lotte.

“Stephen couldn’t see badness in anyone. He was too kind and was always helping people. Everyone loved him. He just hadn’t learned to read people properly. He was only 17.”

This is the first time Lotte – who is Regional Business Development Executive with financial firm, MCN Associates – has spoken about the full extent of her family’s ordeal. She wants to set up a foundation to stop delinquency before it happens. “Children are not born evil,” she says.

Lotte (45), who is Danish, moved to Ireland in 1982 and met her husband Denis in Killarney four years later. They married in 1988 and had their first daughter, Tasha (23), in 1989.

In 1990, they moved to Denmark where their other five children – Benjamin (11), Jonas (16), Mathias (17), Stephen (pronounced ‘Stefan’) and Sofie (21) – were born. In 2001, the family returned to Castle Falls, Killarney: a highly desirable address in a county renowned for its beautiful scenery. The Lynes wanted their children to learn about their Irish roots. Tragically, one of those family roots led to Shane Regan.

“Stephen had only known Regan for about six months. He was delighted when he found out that they were third cousins. He was really proud of his family,” says Lotte.

Stephen, Ollo and Regan were part of a large group of teens who hung around together during the early summer of 2009. The court heard that Regan had a reputation for being domineering, violent and manipulative.

During the  June Bank Holiday weekend Regan’s girlfriend, Klok, was spotted in Killarney Demesne with Stephen.  “They were walking and talking. Stephen was always very kind to Jessica,” says Lotte.

Klok later told Regan that Stephen had dragged her into the woods, put a knife to her throat and raped her. To compound the lie, she added that Stephen had done this to four or five other girls. It was completely untrue. An enraged Regan repeated the accusation to Stephen’s sister Sofie, saying he was “going to get Stephen” Sofie warned Lotte of the threat.

“I absolutely knew the rape claim wasn’t true. I knew my son. Everyone who knew Stephen said he wasn’t capable of such a thing,” says Lotte. “I told him he was in danger and to stay off the streets.”

Her fears were well-founded. She and Denis foiled the first ambush on June 16 when they picked up Stephen on the road and brought him home.

The court heard that, in the early hours of June 18, Ollo went with Stephen to Scrahan Mews to smoke cannabis with Regan.

“No alcohol or drugs were found in the toxicology tests on Stephen. Reports that he had been smoking cannabis the night he died – or around that time – were not true,” says Lotte.

Ollo said Regan hit Stephen in the back and chased him on to Ross Road. He heard Stephen screaming, asking why Regan was attacking him. He was dying from a single knife wound to his back, which had cut through his kidney, spleen and arteries.

It was around 1.20am and, by this time, the Lynes were worried as Stephen wasn’t answering his phone. Lotte was in Dublin for work, so Denis went to search for him. He came across the crime scene and was devastated by what he saw.

“Denis has lived through the agony of losing his eldest son, but he has a heavier cross to bear. He constantly lives through the recurring nightmare of seeing the ambulance, the police, and the flashing lights. As he came upon the scene, he saw his son’s lifeless body lying on the grass.

“He re-lives that night over and over again, constantly blaming himself for not being there to protect his Stephen.”

Lotte will never forget receiving the news of her son’s death.

“I was staying at the Burlington. At 3.30am, two gardaí knocked at my door. They said I needed to call home – they did not know why. Denis picked up my call and told me what happened and the world stopped. ‘It is Stephen, he is dead, and he has been stabbed’.

“I remember slowly sliding to the floor as I cried out. The lady garda reached for me, repeating ‘I am sorry, I did not know’. The other garda sat with a stunned look on his face. I remember putting up my hand as if to physically stop the terrible news from being a reality, thinking that I could somehow, by pure force, hold back the finality of those words: my son is dead.

“The gardaí and hotel staff was very kind and organised a cab to take me to the airport to get a flight to Kerry. There was hassle at the Ryanair desk as I didn’t have my passport with me. After several phone calls, they eventually let me buy a ticket.

“I spent two hours, on my own, in Dublin Airport. I was miles away from my husband and children in the worst moments of our lives. I needed to be there to protect them from this horrendous truth.

“I phoned my parents and Stephen’s best friends to tell them what had happened. Afterwards, I went to the ladies’ and locked myself into a cubicle, shaking and sobbing as the pain raked through my body. I made several more trips to the toilet to collapse in tears before my flight was called.

“That flight was the longest 20 minutes of my life. I sat alone with tears flowing down my face. No-one came near me. Later, as Denis and I drove down Ross Road, I saw the tent that covered my son’s body. I have no words that will do justice to how I felt.”

Lotte speaks kindly of the other players in this tragedy. She bears Ollo no ill will, although he never expressed remorse to them directly.

Klok wrote to the Lynes after Ollo’s trial, finally apologising for what she had done. Lotte has sympathy for her. “Jessica was a very troubled girl back then. There are only losers in this story.”

Regan was never charged in relation to the stabbing. The trial heard he had “gone to his grave” believing Stephen had raped Klok. She told the court that he had admitted killing Stephen to her. Ollo would have been willing to testify against him had he ever been prosecuted for homicide.

Lotte was disappointed at the length of time it took for a case to be heard.

“Stephen’s brothers and sisters have faced a lot of heartache, very young. We waited for over two years for justice. The truth came out during the trial. Our son has been totally vindicated from the lies that were said about him.  People have admitted their involvement and guilt. We are thankful for the hard work that the gardaí have carried out to establish that truth.

“In memory of our son we are in the process of starting up the Stephen Lyne Foundation, which will focus on children and young people. It will aim to prevent youngsters from turning to violence and crime.

“This will be done through a number of initiatives which we will announce in due time. We also want to ensure that our son is remembered for the person he really was: an honest and loyal young man.”

In the meantime, the Lynes are coping with their grief “bit by bit”.

“We only cleared Stephen’s room last summer and that was because we were moving house. Sofie had moved into it to be closer to him and she did not want anything changed. I used to sit there looking at his posters, touching his belongings and the pain of losing him would take my breath away.

“I see him all the time. Sometime I will see a teenager who looks or walks like him, and my heart stops.”

Lotte shouldered Stephen’s coffin at his funeral. “It was something I had to do. I brought him into this world and had to carry him to his last resting place, no matter how heartbreaking that burden was.”

That physical burden lasted only a few minutes. Lotte and her family will carry the heavier burden of their loss forever.

*If you wish to contact Lotte about the Stephen Lyne Foundation, please email her at lotte@mcnassociates.ie

dave@davekenny.com

Meet The Liberator

Sunday Independent, 29 April 2012

He’s a Karate Kid from the Liberties who suffered sexual abuse, poverty and a long list of personal tragedies. Despite these obstacles, Derek O’Neill has transformed countless lives worldwide and now rubs shoulders with Christina Aguilera and Simon Cowell. Here, he talks about following in the footsteps of Bono and Winston Churchill…

By Dave Kenny

You’ve never heard of Derek O’Neill. By his own admission, he is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. But for the past 15 years, Liberties-born Derek has been quietly transforming the lives of countless people.

After witnessing devastating poverty in India, he set up the charitable SQ (Spiritual Quotient) Foundation to build schools, hospitals and other practical institutions in the world’s poorest regions.

It now operates in 11 countries, and 97 per cent of all money raised goes directly to source. Derek absorbs most of the administration costs. To date, he has helped more than 35,000 children.

He should be a household name for his humanitarian work, yet most of us have never heard of him.

Derek’s also an author, transformational therapist, motivational speaker and adviser to some of the world’s top business leaders. He rubs shoulders with Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Christina Aguilera. Oh, and he knows Simon Cowell. If you don’t think that’s an impressive CV, then keep it to yourself. You don’t want to annoy Derek: he’s also a master of the martial arts.

Next Sunday, Derek will be honoured with Variety International’s prestigious humanitarian award at its world conference gala dinner in Dublin. Past recipients have included Winston Churchill, Bono, Henry Kissinger and Frank Sinatra. The accolade may finally bring him out of the shadows where he’s been labouring so long.

Forty-eight-year-old Derek is not what you would expect in a man who was raised by an alcoholic widow and has braved poverty, sexual abuse and the perils of kung fu fighting. He is gentle, eloquent and has surprisingly small hands for a warrior. They look more suited to arts and crafts than the craft of martial arts. His neatly cropped hair is a reminder of his time in the army.

“I was born with a full mop of black hair – they called me the fifth Beatle when I popped out of my mother on the dance floor,” he jokes, referring to the fact that he was born at Dublin’s Rainbow Club disco.

One of seven siblings, Derek comes from a classically poor Liberties background. “My dad worked in Jacob’s earning just the basic wage. There were nine of us in a one-bedroomed ‘artisan dwelling’. We took turns sharing the bed,” he laughs.

He was a loner as a child and would sit by himself in Patrick’s Park or down by the Dodder all day, meditating. His love of solitude and the outdoors earned him the familial nickname of “Nature Boy”. It also earned him some unwanted – and scarring – attention.

“We lived close to the Iveagh Lodgings and there would often be ‘dirty old men’, destitutes, hanging around. When I was six, I went to the toilet in Patrick’s Park and was sexually assaulted by one of them.”

Teenage sweethearts: Derek and Linda pictured in Arizona

His experience of sexual abuse didn’t confine itself to St Patrick’s Park. Derek’s brother Brian was raped and beaten in the notorious Letterfrack Industrial School.

He had been sent there for three years after “borrowing” the local butcher’s bike. He was eight years old.

“Brian was a fun-loving boy and just wanted a go on the bike. The butcher thought he was trying to steal it. He had a horrible time in Letterfrack and used to be beaten with a hurley and sexually abused.

“Brian developed alcohol and drug problems in later life. He was one of the first people to sue the religious orders and won his case in 2004. He left the courtroom and had a heart attack. A few days later, he died. It was as if he had been holding on for years to have his day in court.”

In 1970, the O’Neill family moved to Tallaght. His father was told, in neo-Cromwellian fashion, to go to the fields of Belgard or lose his job.

“It was like an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Liberties. My mother absolutely hated it. She was a real Liberties woman. I, on the other hand, loved it as I hadn’t been ‘Libertised’. There were open fields and rivers, and I made new friends.”

The O’Neill’s new house had all the ‘mod cons’. “We had a cooker with an electric ring. Back in John Dillon Street we had had a gas cooker. I remember my sister once put me up on the gas rings to tie my laces. They hadn’t cooled down fully and I burned my backside. I’ll always remember that gas cooker.”

Derek’s new life in Tallaght wasn’t all idyllic. At the age of 10 he was sexually abused a second time.

“One day this man followed me into a toilet to rape me. I could feel him between my legs. I ran home and told my dad. He didn’t believe me.” Brian eventually persuaded him to investigate Derek’s claim. The abuser subsequently moved out of the area. Derek later heard he had died of cancer.

“Years later, when I was 18, I spotted the man on a train. He was supposed to be dead. I asked if he knew who I was. ‘Sort of’, he replied. I lost control and started beating him. The older me was finally able to stand up for the younger me.”

Shortly after this, Derek entered the army. He hated it and left after six years, in his mid-20s with a wife (Linda) and two kids (Gavin and Orla) to provide for. “I did a bit of everything I could. I cleaned windows, cut grass…” His gardening work led him, indirectly, to seek psychotherapy.

“I had a terrible phobia about wasps, so I went to a psychotherapist. During our session I remembered that there had been a wasp in the toilet when the man tried to rape me. That was when I knew I needed therapy to deal with the abuse.

“I didn’t have any money and discovered that it was cheaper to study to become a therapist than pay for more sessions. There were social welfare grants.” Three years later, Derek was running a successful practice with a nine-month waiting list.

In 1998, Derek and Linda travelled to India for a holiday. The journey would change their lives. “We flew into Madras and while we were pushing through the crowds, we noticed a group of street children. We thought they were playing in a sandpit. It turned out they were amputees. We were told that criminal gangs inject these children with bleach to deform them. It makes them more valuable as beggars.

“Linda and I decided that, from then on, we would just take what money we needed to live on and give the rest to charity.” They went on to raise millions for the impoverished children of the subcontinent.

“The worst thing I have ever seen was a toddler with leprosy. I picked him up and his flesh fell off – practically his entire arm. There were villages full of children like him.” Derek’s spiritual nature and psychological training helped him to cope when faced with such horrors.

Yet another horror – 9/11 – drew Derek to New York, where he held his first ‘More Truth Will Set You Free’ psychology-meets-spirituality workshop. He now tours the United States, sharing his experiences with thousands of people and “empowering them to help themselves, as I have done”.

He even helped Spiderman find his mojo again. Derek was called in after the disastrous opening of Bono’s Broadway musical to “harmonise” the show’s cast and producers. The show went on to become a success.

Between their charity work and Derek’s burgeoning US career, the O’Neills appeared to have it all. That all changed on August 25, 2008.

“I fell in love with Linda when I was 18. We just knew we were for each other. Less than a year later, we were married. She was my right arm. Four years ago, I got a call from Orla who said Linda had a headache and didn’t look great. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home.

“Three days later Linda was dead. She was only 47.”

How do you move on from the death of your teenage sweetheart? Derek’s answer is, unsurprisingly, philosophical: “Death is part of life. We should cry when someone is born and celebrate when they die. Heaven is your rest after the hell of this world.”

I confess to being sceptical about aphorisms like this and the New Age methods of healing his website offers. I tell Derek I have an aphorism of my own, for would-be criminals. “It’s better to find the joy locked inside yourself, than find yourself locked inside The Joy.”

He laughs and it’s easy to see how he attracts thousands to his workshops. He’s instantly likeable. When he says that receiving the Variety Club gong will be the “proudest moment of my career”, there is no doubting his sincerity.

The award came about after a chance meeting with Kevin and Betty Wall of Variety Club Ireland.

“They told me they wanted to buy a Liberty Swing. These enable paraplegic kids to experience the playground thrill of swinging. I was so moved I promised to buy one for every county in Ireland. Kevin (who has since passed away) nominated me for the award. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning it. Hopefully, it will raise awareness here of the SQ Foundation,” he says.

Hopefully, it will raise awareness of this extraordinary Dub as well. He deserves to be recognised.

We shake hands and he leaves to enjoy a day off at Punchestown races. No one takes any notice of this ultimate “secret millionaire” as he exits the bar. Nobody knows who he is.

They do now.

dave@davekenny.com

Owner of iconic Dalkey bookshop recalls 36 years among the covers

‘I once discounted a book for Colin Farrell. He looked like he was on his uppers,’ says Bono’s bookseller

Irish Daily Mail, 17 April 2012

By Dave Kenny

He’s sold books to Bono and Maeve Binchy, and been mentioned in despatches from the Middle East. Declining book sales, however, have forced Michael Simonds to turn the final page on Dalkey’s iconic Exchange Bookshop.

“This is not a decision I’m taking on a whim. I’ve been here since 1975 and would have liked to have carried on. The books trade is in a state of flux. Sales are down 30pc on two years ago and more people are buying online. I don’t blame them. I think people want to support their local bookshop, but sometimes it’s just not convenient,” he says, with trademark charity.

Despite the popularity of Kindle and iPad, he still believes in the “technology” of books.

“One of my customers showed me a 14th century book he owns. That technology has stood the test of time. Even a stone house will eventually fall down. Where does that leave emails in the future? People were trading books hundreds of years ago. My misfortune was to be born at the end of 500 years of publishing.”

With the closure of the Exchange, the Dalkey Book Festival will find itself without a bookshop this year. In June, thousands of tourists will flock to the village to spot their favourite authors. Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan, Declan Hughes, Martina Devlin, Brian Keenan, Joe O’Connor, Don Conroy and Sarah Webb, all live within walking distance of the shop. As one local sardonically points out, “you can’t throw a stick down the main street without hitting a writer. And there are plenty of writers we’d like to hit with sticks around here…”

Michael is concerned that his departure will leave a literary void. “The library is closing for three months too. The village won’t have an obvious book outlet for the festival. It will be a bit odd.”

Closed book: Michael Simonds locks up his world-renowned bookshop

His shop – which has featured in several books, including BBC journalist John Simpson’s autobiography – has served some literary giants over the years. Curmudgeonly playwright, Hugh Leonard, was a regular.

“He exchanged books here right up to his death. He was great, but could be quite brusque sometimes. Once, I didn’t get him a book he wanted and he wrote about me in his column. I thought it was like cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.”

On another occasion, the widow of a legendary politician gave him a tongue-lashing over his accent. Michael comes from a privileged, Anglo-Irish background and professes to be “West Brit, but Irish”. Referring to the War of Independence, the lady told Michael that “we should have shot the lot of you”.

The vast majority of celebrity customers have been pleasant, however. “Bono has come in a few times, but I wouldn’t necessarily recognise him. I’m very short-sighted,” he explains.

“One day a young man came in and bought a book about a French actor. He was scruffy and very Bohemian-looking. I thought he was a poet on his uppers, so I gave him a discount. Someone later told me he was Colin Farrell.”

Once, Michael witnessed a world-famous customer being ‘collared’ by the law. The actor had parked his BMW outside the shop.

“Minutes later the door opened and a guard asked whose car was on the double yellow lines. Pierce Brosnan popped up and said ‘it’s mine’. The guard made him move it. Fair play to him, he didn’t care that he was James Bond.”

Celebrities and locals alike are saddened by the passing of the Exchange. “People around are lovely, they’ve been so kind,” says Michael, pointing to a row of wine bottles behind the counter.

“We’re losing an institution. Dublin lost Green’s and Dalkey is now losing Michael,” said Liz, a local lady stocking up on last-minute bargains. Her fellow resident, Ryan Tubridy agrees, and believes the picturesque village is losing its “nerdy hub”.

“Losing a bookshop from a village like Dalkey is like having the brain removed. It needs a nerdy hub like the Exchange. It’s one thing ordering a book on Amazon, but Michael spoke to customers about authors, titles and the village itself. I hope some local has the sense to invest in the bookshop.”

Author, Brian Keenan, says he is “stunned” at the closure of his favourite shop. “The Exchange is one of the reasons I come down to the village. I can’t believe it’s closing. My abiding memory of the place is the day, years ago, when I went in to use the photocopier. I looked up and there was the journalist, Robert Fisk, asking Michael for directions.”

They hadn’t seen each other since Beirut, where Fisk had spent years writing about Keenan’s captivity in Lebanon.

“I said ‘what are you doing here?’” said Keenan, “and he said ‘What are YOU doing here?’ We both laughed.”

Fisk uses the shop as a post office, according to Michael. “He has his mail sent here when he’s away reporting.”

Michael has a particular affection for journalists, especially those who used to bring in review copies of books over the years.

“Many years ago I applied for a wine licence. I think wine and books go well together. A lot of the journalists who came in were heavy drinkers. I thought, if they came in with a book, for an extra three pounds they could trade it for a bottle of wine.”

Dreams of Bohemian hacks sipping wine and reading Maeve Binchy in the shop were quashed by the aptly-named Judge Hubert Wine.

‘Bohemian’ is word that sits uneasily on Michael’s shoulders, although he is undoubtedly a ‘creative’ himself. Prior to being a bookseller he was a published songwriter. Music runs in the family and his sister Clodagh has played with the likes of Thin Lizzie and Mike ‘Tubular Bells’ Oldfield. There is always music playing in the background at the Exchange. A box of tin whistles is perched on the higher reaches of shelves at the back of the shop. Ballad books sit alongside whimsical histories of Dublin and Lady Gregory’s Irish folk tales.

“It seems odd, as a bookseller, not to be ordering in new stock,” he says wistfully, looking at his soon-to-disassembled shelves. “I’ll be giving a lot of those books to charity.”

After 36 years of selling books, Michael plans to spend the next chapter of his life writing and publishing them. He has already produced two glossy tourist guidebooks which sell for €3. He will miss chatting to his customers though.

“Kids I sold to back in the 1970s have grown up with the Exchange, and now come in with their children. I’ll miss them all.

“I’m sad to be closing, but I’m looking forward to retirement. There are a lot of things I’d still like to do. I’d really like to learn how to play golf,” he says, clocking up his very last sale on the till.

“Let’s say €8.00 for that,” he tells his final customer, discounting a book by 50pc. He walks them to the door as a group of locals arrive with a book-shaped cake. Even in retirement there is no getting away from books. Inevitable gags are cracked about “eating his words” as Michael says his farewells.

He turns the key. Another chapter in Dublin’s history comes to an end.

* If you have any memories of the Exchange Bookshop, I’d love to hear them. Please write them up on the comments page, below. *

Stir crazy: Dublin coffee shop charges 20c for plastic spoons

Longer version of Irish Dail Mail article, 14 April 2012

Dave Kenny

They’ve suffered the Electrical Equipment Levy, the Income Levy and the Household Levy. Now Dubliners are being asked to pay another ‘tax’ … the Spoon Levy.

Commuters at Pearse train station are being driven stir crazy by the apparent ‘tightness’ of its café. ‘SoBu’ is now charging an extra 20c for spoons to stir their lattes with. On top of recent fares hikes, it’s left many travellers ‘frothing’.

So, are these spoons made of finest Newbridge silver? Or could this just be Ireland’s meanest café? The Irish Daily Mail decided to investigate.

There was no sign of Dublin’s most expensive spoons at the cash desk as we queued for our fix. What would they look like, we wondered? Then we spotted them – well out of reach of spoon thieves – behind the counter.

“That will be €1.80,” said the pleasant assistant, handing us our regular tea. Do you charge for spoons, we asked, pointing at the stirring implements.

“Well actually, yes, sorry.” Was this charge based on a desire to save the environment, we asked? Like the plastic bag levy?

“No, everyone asks for a plastic spoon, so management said to charge 20c for each of them.”

But surely the price of €1.80 for a paper cup, sugar, hot water and a teabag (with optional splash of milk) should also cover a spoon? Is it not a bit mean, we asked.

“We have to pay for the spoons,” he patiently explained. “If you buy food – for example, soup – then we can give you a spoon for free.” We didn’t like to point out that it’s rather difficult to eat soup without a spoon.

Not wanting to embarrass him any further, we asked if we could see the manager. Unfortunately, she wasn’t available to explain the ‘levy’.

We took our plastic purchase outside to examine it. There was no gold leaf or added embellishment for our 20c. Disappointed, we decided to ask our fellow commuters what they thought of the Spoon Levy.

“Were they being stolen by junkies to ‘cook up’ their fixes?” one traveller asked. We explained that this was unlikely, given that plastic spoons tend to melt with the application of flame.

Is it to do with litter, asked another. We hunted the platform for discarded spoons. There were none. Perhaps punters were taking them home, as we did, planning an evening of egg-and-plastic-spoon races.

By now, we were eager to know the true value of our spoon (for insurance purposes). Google revealed that a pack of 100 plastic dessert spoons costs €2.17 on http://www.easyequipment.ie. That’s a miniscule 2.2c each, which means that SoBo’s spoons could be yielding up to an 890pc profit. There’s money to be made from spoons  – in spades.

So, is SoBo the meanest café in Ireland? We tried, but were unable, to get a response to this from the company behind it, Sanrex Pearse Trading.

We did note, however, that the Dublin firm is based at a seemingly appropriate address: Ebeneezer Drive.