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Value of local history books – some monkey business!


Some monkey business

Has a book been written about your local area or about the place where you grew up? If so, you’re lucky, and more than a nod of thanks is due to the person/people who spent many hours researching and compiling the information.

In my case the thanks goes to Marie Cleary and her team in Tinahely, County Wicklow who published Tinahely Times Past: Recollections and Reminiscences last year.

It’s a pleasure to have a hardcover, signed copy to keep on my ‘treasure’ bookshelf (that’s the one that I won’t lend books from for love nor money).

It covers all aspects of the town’s history from how the town has changed to what was said about it by historians, to lists of traders and families who lived there over the years, to information about landmarks, townlands, songs and stories. It is a comprehensive publication.

As happens when you read a book like that (which I did during a lockdown) and you happen to like to write, certain stories stick in the mind or strike a chord, summoning up an image in one’s head that settles in and demands pen attention.

Monkey business!

The image that stuck in my head and that led to the poem below involved Fossetts Circus. The poem was triggered by a mention, on page 370, of how the circus wintered on a farm in Ballinglen, near Tinahely, between 1937 and 1952.  The circus wagons trooping back to Ballybeg each year after the season was over must have been quite a sight, particularly in those television-less days. Strange animals in Wicklow fields – how odd that must have seemed to the locals, too, and a contribution to the book by the late Cam Boyd proved that it was. He relates a tale told by a neighbour named Jim Hogan about a monkey on the loose copying him ploughing.  I couldn’t get the image of this ‘ploughing monkey’ out of my head. I’m not sure what kind of monkey it was in reality but in my head I see a chimpanzee.   


 I feel his shock

That ploughman in a Wicklow field

Jim Hogan

Seeing what he saw in ’49 or ‘50

As he guided horse and plough

Controlled the reins

Put up a middle in the frosty soil

Of Ballinglen


A glance into the next field

Stopping him in his tracks


A chimpanzee there in copy mode

Two long briars

In leathery hands

Held out in front

As if holding shafts

Controlling reins


It made him smile –

The ploughman

Working in those fields

Beside those owned by Fossett’s

Where fear could gather too

For who knew what could happen

When the circus wintered

In Ballybeg

And wild animals

Returned there come October

Horse-drawn carriages full of cages

Performers’ wagons piggy-backed too

A monster troop come home

After season’s end


But yes I think I can see Jim smile

Store the story

Of the grinning chimp

Teeth bared intermittently

Big eyes watchful

Taking all in

Emulating rhythm



Turning a virtual furrow

In that grassy place

So far from tropical forest


Then stopping and doing something

That his fellow ploughman couldn’t do –

Going down on all fours

And loping away

© Margaret (Twamley) Hawkins 2021


Bookworm catch-up!

Always playing catch-up – that’s me! There are so many wonderful books in the world and any visit to a bookshop means adding more to the stack that’s already beside my bed but that’s okay. It’s always good to have a selection to hand when spare minutes present themselves and reading anything is never lost on the wind. It feeds into the system and nourishes the soul.

Somehow hard copies of books still win out with me, however. While e-readers have their place (and I do have one) I still love the smell and feel of real paper and the joy of keeping my very favourite hard copies on my ‘treasure’ shelf.

What to read next? How does anyone make that decision? It’s often whatever way the mood takes me. Someone once said that the book you need to read presents itself when you need it. I’ve found that happening often.

Over Christmas two of the books I read were Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These and A Man With A Van by Drew Pritchard.

I also came across an excellent article about writing in Irish Country Magazine entitled Do The Write Thing by Niamh Ennis. It’s for anyone out there who is thinking of making a start on writing a novel and in need of a bit of encouragement and inspiration to do so. It’s worth reading. Read more

Everything in its own time

Everything in its own time

Happy New Year!

I wish everyone a 2022 with more freedom – freedom from worry about Covid and freedom to go out and about like we used to.

‘It takes the good out of going anywhere’ – that’s what I said this morning after checking news apps that said case numbers would be colossal next week and that two masks were advised rather than one now with the more surgical ones (the white pointy ones) preferred so I’ve ordered a few of those locally online! Not that I’m planning on going too far at the moment, despite having had a booster jab in Christmas week. When will it stop? The sooner the better, amen.

One of the things, writing-wise, that I really miss since the pandemic started, particularly on Wednesday afternoons when the back of the week’s work is broken, and on Saturday mornings when I can ‘freewheel’ (the phone doesn’t ring), is taking my notebook to a chosen café and, armed with coffee, indulging in the progression of whatever creative project I’m working on at the time.

I say indulging because it so pleasurable to write fiction after a week of hard fact journalism.  

Occasionally I have company.

Any recent forays to enjoy coffee out may have involved a few minutes with a notebook, jotting down plans for the week or errant thoughts that sprang to mind but there was no real relaxation in it because I couldn’t linger for long.

During lockdown, though, my saviour has been a 5 km drive to my nearest village which is by a lake (which is actually a lagoon) and dashboard drinking of refreshment bought from the nearby Londis supermarket before parking where I can view bird activity on the small island in front of me. 


Novel finished

2021 has been a year of finishing some work and not quite finishing more.

I didn’t get the series of Freewheeling poetry and music events done due to the Covid situation but I will, as soon as it’s possible.  We were just about to have a refreshment rehearsal with a late October booking plan when restrictions kicked in again.

But onto joyful things… December 30th was a landmark day. That was because I completed the seventh draft of my new novel. Whether it will ever be published I don’t know but I’ve done as good a job as I can on it and after that, we’ll see.  I went the way of editorial advice over the last few months, with my fifth and sixth drafts, asking two people whose opinions I value to read it – beta readers, they’re called.  One is involved in farming, is an astute reader and would give me honest answers, I knew, and she did, and the other is a professional writer and critic who has much experience doing this kind of work. It’s a novel set in my home area of south County Wicklow.

It is landscape that I miss and that I have to visit every so often for a ‘fix’ now that I live permanently in a coastal area. I wanted to record its landscape and life in what way I could, wrapped around a fictional story.

We’ll see what happens – maybe nothing – the publishing world is a tough one – what’s new? – but as I said, I’ve written it anyway and writing it, chipping away at it in spare time over several years, has given me joy.

Getting things finished is important. Getting older, and experiencing drama like pandemics, makes one think of time running out. I have a sticker under my PC now that says ‘Just write. We never know how much time we have.’ And I will because I don’t (know).  I have at least one other book that I want to write (and lots more, I hope!).  Restless Spirit:The Story of Rose Quinn was about giving a voice to those incarcerated in asylums in the past, Deny Me Not was about giving a voice to those reared in children’s homes who never knew their parents. This novel is my home ground one that records my love of its landscape and I’ve another important one that will be non-fiction and memoir, all going well, that will record an historical aspect of family that warrants putting pen to paper.

2021 has also been a year of writing a screenplay for the first time too. I was lucky enough to get a place on the Screen Wexford Scripting for Broadcast course that started in March and over eight months 12 of us produced 1 hour screenplays (to third draft stage).

The tutors’ aim is that an anthology series of 4-6 of these television plays be produced, screenplays that are set in Wexford, are of Wexford by Wexford writers. It’s an exciting plan. I’ve no idea whether mine will make the grade or not (New Year will bring the verdict) but it’s been an exciting time, learning how to write for a visual medium. Writing novels one has the convenience of being able to say what’s going on in a person’s head at any particular time but writing for the screen is another story. It’s all action, telling story through showing behaviour, letting the story out through expression rather than through too much dialogue.  Exposition bad, letting the actors act, good!  It’s just a different way of presenting the story. I find that I am watching television much more actively now and learning the language of the new medium, of course – loglines, treatments, beat sheets, match cuts… There is a lot to get to know but it’s an enjoyable process and I hope to do more of it in 2022.

There’s one creative thing that I made in the past two years that isn’t quite finished yet, though. It’s the rainbow blanket that I knit during the first lockdown.

It is for my granddaughter Millie, born in February 2020 before the pandemic hit. I wrote a poem about it too never thinking that the pandemic would linger so long.  That’s the reason I haven’t quite finished the blanket. All I have left to do is embroider some text on the edging. It was supposed to say ‘2020 – the year we needed rainbows’ (see the poem below) but I can’t seem to bring myself to embroider it yet until Covid is a memory.  Will I be putting 2020-2022 – the years we needed rainbows? It’s hard to tell but the pandemic will be over some day and the blanket will be finished. Getting things finished is important, no matter what the task or life’s ongoing challenges but everything has its own time, I find. The drive comes to do it when the time is right.  



 I felt the pull of wool

sought distraction in

the clack of needles

wanting it and them

to ease the pain

the strain of isolation

in the year that she was born


Wanting to mark strange times

sew them up neatly


stitch them into sense

banish the fear that

circled our world

with ‘knit one, purl one’ rhythm


Red, orange, yellow, green

Blue, indigo, violet…


create a blanket that would give

the two fingers to crisis


be a comfort

a woollen hug

that she will wrap around her

in time to come

eyes glued to

its strength



fingers exploring

the textures of

stocking stitch



And somewhere in the softness

of its cotton back or bound edge

find her name


and these words:

2020 – the year we needed rainbows


© Margaret Hawkins 2020

For Millie, born 5th February, five weeks before Covid lockdown

Best wishes for 2022 and beyond.



Well, Level 3 Covid restrictions mean that the poetry readings with music will have to wait for a while but they will happen as soon as possible, I promise. Thank you all for your interest. Stay safe and one of these days or months we’ll be able to talk about ‘the Covid’ in the past tense, all going well, and Spring will have come once again. 


Poems to touch the heart and trigger a smile

Well, it’s about to happen – a New Year’s resolution being fulfilled, better late than never, I know.  It must have something to do with hitting a big birthday this year. You can’t let the year of a big birthday go by, can you, without pushing yourself out of your comfort zone a bit!

That’s why I’m going to do some lunchtime poetry readings over the next few weeks, pandemic permitting, of course. They’ll be based on Freewheeling Up The Hill, the collection that became available on Amazon last year. It will be by way of a little launch and a bit of fun also during what is usually a joyful Festival time in Wexford. Some new work will be added in also, for good measure.

Music too

There will be a mixture of themes and tempos in the readings from the light-hearted to the serious, I promise. Because music is wrapped up in many of the poems Ian Barry, a Wexford singer/songwriter is going to accompany me with some of them. That means there will be a splash of music to enrich the mix, so to speak.

The main event will be in Wexford Arts Centre on Sunday, October 25th and livestreaming via Zoom is planned for that venue also.  That should be set up soon.  More anon.

Wexford Arts Centre is handling the in-theatre booking for all three venues which is great and everything will be done according to HSE Covid Guidelines for Productions, of course. I know, we’re all living in strange times but it’s good to switch off from all the stress sometimes, while following regulations at the same time, of course. That’s in order to feed the soul. I know that’s what doing anything creative helps me do.

If you can make one of the events or Zoom in from afar you will be most welcome.

P.S. Ewa from www.blacksoda.ie has designed a lovely poster – it’s great to have her help, as always, and Ian’s work can be heard on ianbarry.bandcamp.com  He will be playing guitar and bouzouki.

‘Pinch me’ Moments in Madeira

It has been a heavy time, news wise, lately but sometimes you have to focus on the good memories.


Yes, there was a lot to fill our television screens lately – and make jaws drop and hearts stop on sofas.

I’ve never been to Notre Dame but the thought of a cathedral as ancient as that going up in flames was saddening but the fact that no one died was some kind of relief.

The death in Derry was much worse and continues to be a concern – time for big prayers for wise and steady leadership in and for this country.

The recent bus crash in Madeira was horrifying also – 29 German visitors to the island losing their lives. Maybe it has stuck in my mind because I once had the privilege of visiting Madeira and I remember the roads and the bends and the steepness. Given the steep terrain it is a tribute to the drivers there that very few accidents have happened over the years.

Madeira, an island owned by Portugal is visited by around one million tourists each year and when you are there it is a case of constantly looking either uphill or downhill for there are very few level areas on it. Driving there demands a real head for heights and a steady hand. Drivers often are more like thrill seekers than chaffeurs given the kind of terrain they have to negotiate! That’s not to take away from the joy of visiting this special place, however.  I got the opportunity of going there, at two days’ notice, in 2011. Another journalist couldn’t make it at the last minute so I got the call at noon on a Friday and by 9.30 a.m. on the Sunday I was in the departures lounge in Dublin Airport heading for Madeira’s capital, Funchal, for five days, courtesy of Concorde Travel.  What a joy that was. This is what I wrote about Madeira when I came back:


It was five days of firsts – my first time in Madeira, the Portugese-owned ‘pearl of the Atlantic’, my first time to experience volcanic landscape, to see banana trees and sugar cane growing and to see dolphins close up.  It was also my first experience of being so high up on land that I could actually look down on the clouds. Memorable moments also included eating octopus and, to top it off, toboganning down a 5km slope in a basket! Read more

road in forest
road in forest


I’ve been on the road a lot lately and, seeing so many roadworks and roundabouts on such trips, something my father used to say kept coming into my head.

“Isn’t it amazing what the combination of man, money and machinery can do?”

That was from a person who’d been involved in road-building himself in the 1950’s and who watched the Wicklow landscape changers of N11 and M11 develop over the years – ditches cut away, yellow dumpers climbing brown hills and the grey cement of bridges appearing on the horizon of newly-minted thoroughfares.

Close-up of a construction site excavator

Our route from Tinahely to Dun Laoighre on family visits in the 1960s, for example, changed from crossing the Dargle bridge and taking the beautifully-named (but very windy) Lucky Brook road to heading straight for the turn off into Cabinteely in the 1970s.

But motorways are now taking over from their dual-carriageway precursors. Wexford is full of almost-open by-passes at the moment – New Ross, Enniscorthy – with new roads appearing out of what once were fields, red cones in rows signaling almost finished routes and road signs awaiting the removal of grey paint to direct us to the new short-cut locations.   Read more

St Patrick – and more – on my mind

It’s a very different kind of St Patrick’s weekend this year. Because of what happened last year it’ll always have an extra resonance now

One day – one special day and certainly a welcome national break in the middle of the week – that’s what St Patrick’s Day was in our neck of the woods years ago. It wasn’t a long weekend bloated by excess on any front really. A cake with green icing was often made in our house and shamrock for your school lapel was found for the day before, of course, if you were lucky enough to find some of the ‘little clover’ after what could be long looking. Statements like ‘that’s only clover, you eejit!’ spring to mind… Read more



 I heard an interesting story about how a couple met over the weekend. These ‘how it happened’ stories are always enjoyable. I was talking to my godmother who is 94 about a neighbour of ours around the same age and how that woman – S – had met her husband who was from UK. I had wondered how they’d crossed paths given that people didn’t travel much in those days. It was all because of red flannel, she said.  I know – intriguing!

There was a shortage of it after the Second World War in England apparently but ‘it could be got’, my godmother said, here in Ireland.  It was in demand particularly for people with arthritis, she said, providing warmth for dodgy knees and lower backs. Anyway, our neighbour, then in her 20s, and from County Wicklow, was a nanny across the water and had been home visiting her family where she heard that a farming neighbour’s sister in the UK was bad with arthritis and needed some red flannel in the worst way. Read more


Well, it’s done!  An ebook collection of poetry and prose – Freewheeling Up The Hill – has now gone live on Amazon and it’s a huge buzz to have another book up there to accompany Deny Me Not and Restless Spirit. It is also a bit nerve-racking putting new work out into the world but pens-crossed the reaction won’t be too bad:)  My thanks to Ewa Neumann for designing a wonderful cover (that’s me on the bike!) and to Denis Collins for a bit of editorial assistance en route.  If you’re wondering about the title I hope I explain it below in what is the book’s introduction.  I’m recording an audio version soon – I have the throat lozenges ready – and a print version will also be available on Amazon shortly also, all going well. In the meantime thank you all for your support and interest in my scribbles and I hope that you find something that appeals to you in Freewheeling Up The Hill.  Read more


If you have any questions or queries please do not hesitate to contact me