My family will enjoy one last tour today, through the Gap of Dunloe as the sun rises this morning. They will chase the views, breathe the air, feel the wind on their cheeks as the ultimate tour guide, Damian Stack, does what he does best - connect hearts with this wild country.
But before I go through this entire box of tissues, there is time left! Off I go to welcome this day, Christmas Eve in Listowel. Wherever you are, I wish you the happiest of holidays and the fullest of hearts, and a hearty "ho-ho-ho" on your rooftop tonight.
The time is growing short; the day of departure draws near. My heart is happy for holidays, visiting family, continued adventure and daily joy of Irish living. My heart is also heavy with goodbyes looming. The soft pace of small-town living has lodged itself in my soul. I want to bring it home with me.
Thursday. A whirlwind tour, sunup to sundown and beyond. Our guides, Damian Stack and Ger Greaney, began with a run up to Knockanure in the early morning mist. On the left, and aging cemetery of Celtic crosses and stone walls. On the right, in the middle of a farmer's field, a fairy fort. High on the hill, surrounded by tall trees, a circle of legend and bones which none would enter.
here comes the rain
let's go to the beach
the beach, the wild and wonderful beach
Rooks watch the setting sun
night is falling
The sun is gone
but light remains
we remember, we remember
the flickers whisper
In 1980, Patricia O'Flaherty (Mary's mom) opened Chic Boutique on a shoestring budget and with a dream in her heart. She was always drawn to fashion, and grabbed an unexpected opportunity to open her own shop. Mary joined the business in 1987. These women are self-taught, motivated, confident and inspired - all the right ingredients for entrepreneurship. The shop was launched just as Irish design began a sort of renaissance, and has organically grown ever since.
Irish fashion design is centered around knitwear, as woolens and yarns are plentiful and the climate demands practical clothing - warm, dry and long-lasting. The Aran sweater originated in Ireland, and is so iconic it is now on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Of course, Irish designs have been elevated since then, but continue to be known for timeless, classic elegance. In Chic Boutique, this timeless elegance has a contemporary twist, keeping the clothing neither too staid nor overly trendy. Irish fashion is considered an investment which will stand the test of time, both in its durability and its ability to cross over seasons and trends with the addition of key accessories.
Take this blue dress (wool crepe, silk lined) by Irish designer Sookyoung Song, for example. It goes from day to night, from fun to serious with the addition of a few key pieces - a casual belt, freshwater pearls, varying hats (designer Aoife Harrison) or an evening wrap. All the same dress, transformed by accessories.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The starting point (and key), according to Mary, is to wear what suits your shape. "If you follow fashion slavishly," she says, "you're going to get it wrong if it doesn't suit your shape." She looks for sharp tailoring, a good cut, and good fabric. Her advice is to consider the color, shape and fabric that is right for you - "if you follow this formula, you'll make no mistakes," says Mary.
She acknowledges, however, that affordability and availability can be an issue at times. If you have to choose one of the three, she advises color be the top priority. "The colors you were drawn to as a child, in general, will suit your skin tone." Mary's advice appeals to my inner child, who loves blues, pinks, purple and teal.
Now watch this little black dress flex its fashion muscle...
And then the coat...oh, the coat! Wool and patent leather, over top of the black dress. And look at the profile on this gorgeous piece! In Ireland, the coat is the primary clothing item that "carries you through weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs."
I asked Mary for a prescription for a basic wardrobe. The following is recommended for Ireland, but a variation of this will work in most climates:
Although Irish designers are the primary feature in Chic Boutique, Italian luxury clothing has a place as well. For the more casual lads (like yours truly), a silk blouse over black pants is a smashing success with this tweed jacket. The gloves - holy mackerel - buttery leather, silk-lined.
Now of course I am salivating at the thought of an entirely new wardrobe of perfect clothing. But the reality is we often have good clothes in our closets which simply aren't working for us anymore. Sometimes these are quality, structured pieces, but we no longer go to an office each day. Mary's advice is to break up these outfits. Old suit skirts can become your "little black skirt" when separated from the jacket. The jacket can be fabulous over jeans and a crisp, white shirt. "Better broken up and worn than together and unworn," says Mary. Of course, a few updated accessories can change the whole look without breaking the bank.
There was a little "aha" moment when we began discussing cost, fast-fashion and the numbers of pieces in most women's wardrobes in the USA. Mary told me the average women spends 50-100 euros per week on clothing, rather than invest in fewer pieces of a higher quality, because budget is the primary focus. Over a year, that adds up to 2500-5200 euros (about $6,100). A high-end wardrobe of a few key pieces can be acquired for half that cost, will last longer, and will consist only of items you want and love. "If you wear what you love, what you feel good in," says Mary, "you will behave differently, walk differently." "Confidence," she says, "is the key to everything."
Many thanks to Mary O'Flaherty for the generous gift of her time, wisdom and a fabulous early morning "show and tell" demonstration in her boutique. You can follow Mary and the Irish designers she features on Facebook.
Thanks to our government, we now know there are additional words which should not be used in conjunction with saving lives and protecting those who are, ahem, "exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally." Well, they said not to use the word, but didn't say the definition of the word was outlawed. Perhaps the CDC could simply include the definition of the banned words wherever they might need to use the word? I mean, the "unborn or unhatched offspring of a mammal, in particular an unborn human more than eight weeks after conception" might take up more space in a report, but at least everyone will know exactly what the CDC is referring to.
Or perhaps we could just assign them names. "Transgender" could be referred to as "Sue." "Evidence-based" could be "Stephen." An appendix could be included in each report, allowing the reader to clearly understand the text. I am writing a letter to the CDC with my recommendations as soon as I finish my coffee. I wonder if they will be permitted to read my letter if it includes these banned words? Or will the letter be redacted?
Maybe the CDC could include in its reports hyperlinks to websites that explain these words in lieu of the actual words themselves. The Science Council has a lovely definition on its home page: Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.
And don't even get me started on the ban of the word DIVERSITY.
While the government continues its march against the use of words, I plan to increase my use of them exponentially. I might even put them on a t-shirt, in case I am so mad I can barely speak.
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming in Listowel.
It is a "soft" day here, with clouds and mist and softly falling drizzle. The perfect day to mind the gallery, paint and get ready for new guests tomorrow.
I will leave you with this bit of knowledge, courtesy of the great philosophers at the 6 to 9 Club at John B's - in Ireland a woman is never called a whore, but a man is called a hoor (which can also mean whore, but is a "difficult or unpleasant thing"). And here is John B himself expound on how to properly use the word.
Keane's voice was pure and true, bringing tears to our eyes. Irish dancers delighted the audience with their skill, glittery costumes and the exuberance of youth. Traditional Irish flute music was new for me, and I am enchanted by the instrument, its sounds and the soulful renderings of the flautist.
There was poetry by Gabriel Fitzmaurice in both Irish and English, both serious and hilarious as only he can do.
The gorgeous music of Mickey McConnell blended well with Claire Keane in Silent Night...and then my favorite, Lidl and Aldi, whose lyrics I knew nearly by heart and couldn't help but sing along. If you haven't heard this before, here it is for your enjoyment. If you have heard it before, you'll likely want to listen again. :)