Another New Normal

True Love

Eilish is gone. No, she’s not dead. She’s just gone home. We are learning to live in this new normal. How many new normals will there be?

A friend reminded me that Darwin’s theory was not about survival of the fittest but survival of the adaptable and we are learning to adapt. Denis is adapting well to my nagging. Didn’t Darwin talk about supporting your wife’s adaptability? Yes, I definitely remembering hearing something about that.

Before she left Eilish made us a Victoria Sandwich. It’s ok there’s no bread in it…

Anyway, the garden will never be the same, which is a blessing but now I have to adapt to doing the gardening on my own. So far I have fixed the compost heap with a bungie cord, pulled more than six weeds and watered Denis’ basil plants. Not entirely sure but I may need to increase my efforts.

We tried to kidnap Sadie…

The house also will never be the same, Denis emptied the dishwasher on the first morning AE (after Eilish) so that either means he’s going to keep doing it or next time it’s my turn. I would like to include optimism in my adaptability so I think he’s going to keep doing it.

These lovely things popped up in our front wasteland

We have a grocery delivery today and in the spirit of adaptability I added a game of chance to keep our spirits up. There’s a window of two hours during which the groceries will arrive. Today, if they arrive in the first hour I will get them and unpack them and put them away, all on my own. But if they arrive in the second hour Denis will do it on his own. We’re halfway through the first hour, anyone want to get involved in a side bet?

The old road…

Oh, the dog is gone too. Eilish took Sadie, with her. Yes we are grieving. Ok she was very annoying when she barked but she only barked when someone came to the door (not a lot of that lately) or when we kissed (also, not a lot of that lately) because kissing is like attacking someone with your teeth to Sadie… Or when any of us picked up the door keys or when the seagulls made seagull noise or when a cat sauntered through the back garden. Or when she heard an unusual noise or… actually, she barked a lot. But in the evening when we all sat down to watch Downton Abbey (family show, no violence, no bad language, no sex scenes, nice costumes, perfect for Sadie) she sat on my lap and fell asleep. Awww. Making it impossible for me to get anything from the kitchen so Denis had to serve me. Awww. .

Look! The strawberries are nearly here!

We’ve been in contact and unfortunately Eilish is very happy at home and not interested in coming back so we’ll have to carry on without her. Maybe have a mother-in-law section?

May you be well, Mairead.

The shredder is all mine…

(Growing baby daisy’s in the maternity ward)

The gardening continues. I’ve just realised this might be why my dabbling in the garden previously didn’t bear fruit (pun intended.) It’s a continuous game, gardening. Persistence is rewarded and popping in and out once a month is very much discouraged. Maybe that’s why a team of gardeners is a good thing. We have a team here at the moment one of us is part-time but we’re getting the most out of him. In spite of his protests about being too busy I’ve seen him secretly checking out the growth of our seeds in the maternity ward.

(Here we are in prenatal… with little Rose)

So last weekend was the first weekend Denis was able to get into the garden. Eilish had a list of jobs ready for him and I learned a thing or two about keeping him on point and not wandering off to do something he liked better. The phrase, oh no you’re not finished here yet! stops him in his tracks. Let me just write that down for future use.

(FenceChat location)

He fixed the fence between our house and my friend Aileen and now I’m not worried about falling over it during our weekly FenceChat. It’s a new app like zoom but no one freezes, except from the cold.

He also hammer-actioned some screws into some wood and fixed the shed door. It seems lifting the door with one foot while undoing the bolt was not the intended way to get into the shed. We are saving a ton of time without all the gymnastics.

(Can you see those fabulous hammer-action screws?)

Then Eilish found my new favourite tool – a shredder. It was at the back of the shed and one of the things I didn’t know I was grateful for… I woke up on Friday morning with a brilliant idea. With all our enthusiasm in the first weeks we had filled three huge garden bags and numerous smaller black bags with garden debris. Then we had run out of bags and no way of getting more so we were at a tipping point… On the one hand neatly cut plants and pulled weeds, on the other, towering piles of plant cuttings and weeds. I have to be very particular when taking photos for you, one centimeter too far to the right or left and you will be horrified.

(Denis was a little too wide angle on this shot… but there’s me and my shredder)

I started using my shredder (it’s mine) on Saturday. By the way, I’m the only one allowed to use the shredder, safety issues, you understand. Stay well back now. (Don’t tell them but it’s nothing to do with safety, it’s all about the optics, I look like I’m doing a lot but the machine is doing it all. Kinda like how I used to think about ironing before I realised no one was noticing my neat piles of ironed clothes left lying around the house for weeks. The noise of the shredder ensures everyone knows I’m hard at work…)

(Here’s Denis working on the fence or maybe he’s doing a little dance?)

So now I’m shredding (well ok the machine is shredding) the contents of the garden debris bags. On top of that we can use the shredded material for mulch (impressed? that’s a new word in my vocabulary, maybe I will become a gardening app next?) on the front garden. It works best with woody material so the weeds will have to turn themselves into compost on their own. For that purpose we have found a good spot and they are hard at work.

(Even with that big pile of rubbish, this is still my favourite spot to sit and do nothing)

Well to be honest they are slow at work, very slow but that’s ok, slow is acceptable too. I can feel myself slowing down too, is it time to sit and enjoy the garden yet?

May you be well, Mairead.

The Journey

(Practicing Garden Therapy)

Today is the day we were booked to travel on the ferry from Rosslare to France ❤️ then onto Spain ❤️ on our journey to Portugal ❤️. Right about now I would be writing my first post from the car park of the services area near Gorey. But everything changed and here we all are on a different kind of journey. Together.

(Watching Eilish playing in the shed)

I’m sitting in my garden and I can tell you one thing I didn’t know before, I am very lucky to have a garden. I have been neglecting her but she waited, hibernated even, let herself go a bit with the grief of missing my care. I’m sorry, garden. I’ll do better. I think that’s one of the things this journey is going to be about – gratitude for the things I didn’t know I had.

(We are collecting sticks… I’ll explain another day)

Another thing about this journey is that there’s three of us. Denis, whom I’m usually living with in close confines, has been self-isolating for the past ten days, we talk on the phone now. I suppose I should add him to the list of things I’m grateful for. I didn’t realise how much I have got used to his presence. I am finding it surprisingly easy to be annoyed by his absence which I find surprisingly easy to turn into annoyance with him but he’s taking it well. I’m obviously not trying hard enough.

(Aren’t they lovely?)

Eilish is here too, Denis’ Mom (Denis and his five brothers all call their Mam, Mom – might be a Cork thing.) Eleven days ago we gave her an ultimatum and bundled her into the car to come live with us. Right about now I sense she’s ready to bolt. I’m really grateful she’s here though because she’s a huge distraction. You know, like Netflix?

(The description said they were ground cover and seemingly that means less weeds?)

When I’m not watching her we’ve been navigating a way to be two strong women sharing one house… politely. (Politely because Eilish doesn’t use swear words, I love them! I have found a way to make her laugh when I’m swearing though, I love to make her laugh.) She has a very different way of looking at things and she definitely thinks there’s one right way to do stuff. I don’t think there’s one right way… and I know I’m right…

(That’s wild garlic. Liam, one of Eilish’s sons, gave it to me last year and it survived!)

We are very alike in many ways, we like crafting and more recently gardening and Denis, we like Denis, mostly. We are also very different. She likes crafts to be exactly like the pattern intended, I don’t like following the pattern. I think weeds are just flowers planted in the wrong place and she thinks that’s crazy talk. I bet when she reads this she’ll say, Now, don’t mind me, Mairead but maybe just take a few more pictures of the garden and say less?

(Look! Ivy grows in our shed!)

It was my Dad’s birthday yesterday, he’d have been 99. I was thinking of him and the time of the petrol crisis (that was when we thought not having petrol was the worst thing that could happen to us.) He had a petrol station during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the petrol crisis was a highpoint for him. He realised that how he behaved then would underscore the rest of his business life. So he was kind. He rationed the petrol so there would be enough for everyone. Even if you weren’t a customer, even if he didn’t know you or would never see you again. Thirty years later people from different parts of Ireland were dropping in to thank him and remind him of how he helped them when they most needed it.

He reminds me that my behaviour now will underscore the rest of my life. I’m negotiating my way through this and it’s not in every moment but most of the time, I try to be kind.

May you be well, Mairead.

Back in Ireland

(Passing gates, grass, hedges and ploughed fields on our way home…)

We did indeed have calm seas with just a bit of waving motion which I don’t like so I went back to bed until it passed.

When we finally arrived at home trick or treat was in full swing. It was pitch dark, children and adults were wandering on and off the paths. Fireworks were exploding and it took a bit of effort to negotiate the reversing of Ruby into her spot. The freezer had defrosted itself while we were away so that needed attention. Everything else was fine.

Now it’s the next morning and time to write a to do list, hug the washing machine and get the groceries. Oh and empty Ruby, we couldn’t face that in the dark last night.

I do have another project in mind and as you know, from past experience, I have to tell you about it in order to do it but I’m not ready yet… instead I’ll write to you in a week and bring you up to date.

For now: Thank you for reading. To those who emailed or texted or commented or bought my book I really, really appreciate the time and effort and expense you expended.

Thank you for joining us as we wandered this autumn around France in Ruby. Mairead and Denis.

(There we are in Greystones)

Leave the floor washing and follow your heart

We had a great night sleep. Very gentle rolling at 3am but otherwise smooth as a lake. We’ve just had breakfast, the highlight of which was the coffee. They must have a new machine… No the real highlight of the breakfast was the servers, they are always smiling.

We’ll be sitting around for the next six hours so I might as well tell you a story.

(Map of the National Museums in Dublin, all free entry)

About a month ago I decided to be waaay more organized preparing for this trip. I’d pack all my clothing early. I’d tidy the house and garden and I’d have neat little craft boxes with only a few crafting options to keep me focused while I was away. I thought it would make the last week easier – I love easier. As it turned out the last week wasn’t easier but the whole month was much more interesting than usual and I’m glad I did it that way but that’s a different story. This story is about a war museum.

On Wednesday morning this week I was right on track with the preparation and it even seemed possible I would have time to wash the kitchen floor (long overdue and a bit sticky to be honest.) Then my sister sent a text. She’d seen a video about an art exhibition in Collins Barracks which she knew I’d want to see. I did want to see it, I’d love to see it! It was opening to the public at 10am that morning and she didn’t know how long it would run. This might be my only opportunity.

Of course, I couldn’t go. The sticky floor. The meticulously planned day. The last few groceries. That bathroom could do with another run over. Plus there was a small possibility I could slip in two more craft projects under the bed in the van but only if I started unpacking the garage now. There was definitely no time for an art exhibition.

So I went to the art exhibition.

It was the right thing to do. I don’t exactly know how to explain it to you without expanding the story… How are you fixed for time? I have six hours to spare here.

Ever since I did an art course at BIFE (Bray Institute of Further Education) the story of how some women (a lot of women) were shamed and rejected by society in Ireland because they were pregnant and not married, was calling to me. There was a special place  these women were sent – Magdalene Laundries, commercial laundries where the women worked without pay.

(One side of the courtyard at Collins Barracks)

At first I thought that you had to be pregnant to be sent to a laundry but orphans were sent there too. Sometimes when a woman died and her husband couldn’t cope he would send his children to a laundry or to the industrial schools. Sometimes speaking up for yourself or being a little different was enough to get you sent to the laundry. It was hard to get out and some women stayed all their lives.

I found the stories very upsetting. Something of the shaming of these women played into my own stories of shame.

(There were recordings of Laundry women)

Fortunately I had an outlet on my course and I started making art pieces inspired by their stories. I made white porcelain aprons for the white aprons the women had to wear in the laundry. I made pregnant grubby aprons on the reverse of stretched canvases for the shame they endured. I made buttons, loads and loads of ceramic buttons, for all the buttons they must have sewn back on the shirts of Ireland.

After the course I wondered what I could do with the things I’d made, how I could share them. Could I make a statement with them? Weirdly my stories of not being good enough and not knowing enough surfaced and I did nothing.

(A list of the Industrial schools in Ireland. I saw on this list that there was one in my home town. The scissors is made by the artist with glass)

Then last June my sister sent me a text (yes same sister, she’s lovely isn’t she?) to tell me there would be some of the women of the laundries going to the Lord Mayor’s house in Dublin. A committee drawn up by the government had gathered them together to discuss what they had gone through and to consider what could be done now. They would also be visiting the president of Ireland. This would be an opportunity for the public to show their support to the women. I went and stood on the footpath outside the mansion house and clapped and waved and cried. Something good happened there. Something opposite to pointing the finger and shaming. Ireland was different now.

Next morning I had an idea. Imagine if these women knew that Ireland had changed. You see most of them had kept their shameful secret. They had gone to London or America or Australia or somewhere no one would know what happened. They had started again. That’s the lucky ones, the others had died in the Laundry or were still there when they closed in the 1990’s and were moved to nursing homes. They had told no one of their time in the Laundry. How could they? What would people think of them? They didn’t know Ireland was different now.

It is different now, isn’t it?

(Covered walkways around the courtyard at Collins Barracks)

I started a social media campaign. By that I mean I set up a Facebook page, a website, a blog, a twitter account. I posted and connected. I wrote to the minister of justice. I pestered friends to share. I sewed a load of buttons to safety pins and asked everyone to wear a white button in solidarity with the women of the Laundry. And then I went back to my normal life. I didn’t know what else to do. I want to believe we are a different more inclusive Ireland, I want to believe it. But I started to read about Direct Provisioning and I started to hear people complain about the media’s attention on the woman of the Laundry when they should have been paying attention to the pope. I started to hear people complain about hearing too much about the babies buried in a tank under an abandoned Mother and Baby home in Tuam.

(The exhibition)

So on Wednesday I left the kitchen floor and went to see an exhibition where the artist, Alison Lowery didn’t let anything stop her until she finished her artist response to what happened in Ireland in the recent past. There’s a video by the artist explaining the exhibition, it takes 10 minutes, it’s worth it, listen. When I was leaving the museum I recognised the woman walking in. Without thinking I said are you the artist? She said she was. I mumbled the incoherent enthusiasm of a super fan, hugged her and went home. I will send her a link to this post as this is what I wanted to say: Thank you for having the courage and generosity to tell this story with your art. I’m a big fan of your work. More hugs.

Do you remember when I told you stories about visiting the war museums in France and Belgium? Do you remember how it was very emotional and I wondered if I should be visiting them?

(A corner of the courtyard at Collins Barracks)

Well there’s a war museum in Collins Barracks. I don’t mean the war of independence, the war against British rule. I mean the war against our own. Against each other. Against women. This one will be emotional and there will be no one else to blame, there are no baddie armies. It’s just us. Against us. Please go, I think you can handle it.

(A)dressing our Hidden Truths. An artistic response to the legacy of Mother and Baby homes and Magdalen Laundries – Alison Lowery. Collins Barracks Museum Dublin. It runs for the year.

Until tomorrow, Mairead.

PS. Didn’t fit the extra crafts or tidy the garden but the kitchen floor is washed!

Pps: This year I’m going to use one of Denis’ apps ( to help me show you exactly where we are. On the map above the yellow dots show Greystones, Rosslare Harbour, Cherbourg and Mont St. Michel.

Crossing Over to the Other Side

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(Path around the lake beside the aires at St-Amand-Montrond)

It’s September, the sun is shining, I am sitting in McDonalds drinking coffee and sharing their lovely wifi and their lovely electricity. We’re back in France! We crossed over on Saturday night and it was some cross over! I had got used to the kind of crossing I like – calm, no waves, gentle lulling to sleep when you lie down. We’ve been on lots of ferries in the past five years and they’ve all been like that. (Mind you there was one about five years and two months ago that was rough so I suppose it was time.) Anyways, fifteen hours in it became calm, so all ended well and we docked in Cherbourg to sunshine and blue skies.

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(There were quotes inside the door of every toilet at the first campsite… any idea what it says?)

From Cherbourg we drove south over the Loire river and spent our first two nights at a lakeside campsite between Orleans and Bourges. It was a quiet site with a handful of fishermen around a pretty lake. We chose this site in the usual way: pick a general area, look up one of the campsite books and pick one with facilities we want. Electricity and toilets are essential. If there’s a shop nearby that’s a nice bonus. If there’s a neighbourhood restaurant – triumph! This campsite had the basics and was close to a town so we figured the shop and the restaurant were very likely. We usually find this process works.

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(Huge cathedral in Bourges)

This time we’re trying something new… we bought a book called Escapades in a Camping-Car. (Camping-Car is what the French call camper vans and motorhomes.) The book consists of 5 to 17 day circuits around nineteen areas in France. It shows interesting places to visit and campsites where you can stay. It also shows free stops, aires. Aires are places you can park overnight, not a campsite and usually there’s no electricity or toilets… but it’s free! The book is great with only one tiny problem – it’s in French. But on the plus side our French reading is improving.

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(Pretty house in Bourges)

Yesterday morning we left our lakeside campsite at 8.30am and drove to the town of Bourges, where we parked in an aire. It’s often hard to find parking when we visit a town due to our size and we usually use a supermarket car park but this was better. From there we walked fifteen minutes into the town for a coffee. I also found a wool shop as I am knitting cheerful bunting on this trip and I was in danger of running out! Denis took the opportunity to get some mobile wifi from the Orange shop (we will get free updates if I mention them more than once in each blog… and a free t-shirt for every third mention, so watch for that!) They were very friendly in the Orange shop 😉

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(While I was buying what I love – knitting yarn, Denis was buying what he loves – blue cheese!)

Actually, it’s something we are noticing this year…. the French are very friendly. Little things that make us believe the French really do love the Irish – thank you lovely Irish football supporters! We were in the petrol station buying the Camping-Car book when a French man, overhearing us talk as he walked into the shop, asked (in English) if we were Irish, he noticed we had left the petrol cover open on our car and wanted to tell us. Ok we didn’t have a car but still…. wasn’t that nice? And then in Bourges at the tourist office, where I went to locate the wool shop, the lady asked where we were from and beamed from ear to ear saying “ah Irlande!” Ok, not big things but last year in the tourist office in Carcassonne when I said I was from Ireland they said absolutely nothing… nothing. Silence. So I’m taking this as a win.

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(Look! Even McDonalds love us!)

After coffee we moved an hour south of Bourges to St-Amand-Montrond… and another free parking spot. It’s beside a pretty lake, there are toilets and it’s a five-minute walk to a hypermarket and a McDonalds. And it’s free… We will be moving to a campsite tomorrow because we need electricity to charge the computer and phone batteries and a hot shower would be nice!

From McDonalds, nowhere near an Orange shop (there’s my free t-shirt…) Mairead.

The eBook is out!

Well it’s finally happened…The eBook is live on Amazon! You might remember I mentioned it last September on this blog post in Creative Calm. So I wrote, edited, got scared, edited some more, went into a small decline, edited some more and finally figured out how to put it up on Amazon. Then there was another round of getting scared, editing, curling up in a dark corner and editing some more. Finally, I told my little sister, Moira, that it was ready. Telling her was kinda accidental, kinda on purpose. You see, she thinks I’m great. It’s best to pick someone like that when you want help breaking out of a fear cycle.

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(The eBook is here!)

My little sister has always thought I was great, ever since she first recognised me pushing her pram, carrying her in my arms or letting her play with my friends. So whenever I tell her about something scary I’m about to do or that I’ve already done she says something like “Get over yourself, that’s a great idea!” (that’s an actual quote, I never said she was easy on me.) And somehow I get over myself and I come out of the small decline or the dark corner and get on with doing my thing. Anyway, I told her and she went off and bought the book and then she started telling and selling and I woke up this morning to her overnight messages (she lives in Canada) about who had been responding to her methods and I realised I had to Get Over Myself. So this is me getting over myself and telling you about my first eBook. Yes, first because there will be more and yes I may be going into a small decline about that in the future but that’ll mean I’m doing my thing and sure isn’t that the point of life?


(She hates photographs but I had to show you her Get Over Yourself! face)

So, here’s the link for you to click:

It’s called Finding Graiguenamanagh (yes I know the title should be easy to spell…. next time…) and it’s about ten days we spent in Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, a beautifully special place in Ireland. There are pictures and words and it’s very short. When you click on the link (all going well) you’ll be brought to where you can read the first chapter and where you can buy it… if you want. While I’d love you to buy it, I am working on not caring whether you buy it or not because that’s not my thing – writing the next one is my thing! Despite the anguish and dark places I have mostly LOVED this process and I will keep going and keep learning how to allow myself do my thing without fear.

Look Moira! I think I’m getting over myself! Mairead.

Bubbles of Joy

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(Old petrol station in Birr, Co. Offaly)

We’re back home after our week away. We have lots of photos and memories of beautiful places. I have lots of new ideas, as does Denis. Travelling for repeated stretches without the possibility of checking for messages, emails, social media allows little projects to be formed. I suppose you could call it daydreaming. Not every daydream needs to be activated but without action a daydream or an idea is just interesting.

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(Petrol was measured in gallons and charged in pounds, shillings and pence)

Like the idea I had on the first day to photograph old garages – the ones that fix your car. Not the big fancy ones that also sell new cars. The ones that were probably built in the 1950s or 1960’s. They are usually square concrete buildings that some might call ugly – not me. I see a glossy coffee table book with pictures of the owner and some of the staff standing outside the rusted sliding door, with the garage name visible over their heads. I see moody dark pictures of the workbench covered in tools, the only light coming through a small cracked window. I see a paragraph on the story of the building, how the present owner came to be there and who started the enterprise.

Car Accident

(The first death by car accident – Birr!)

For three days I searched the edges of towns we entered trying to spot the type of building I wanted. By the end of the second day I’d seen four and each time I was filled with a bubble of joy. Unfortunately, the bubble of joy lasted longer than it took to drive past and when I woke up I realised I didn’t know where we were, I wouldn’t be able to find that garage again and I hadn’t taken a picture. At the end of day three I decided to share my idea for a garage coffee table book with Denis. As I shared I realised the book would never happen it was just an interesting daydream.

Rock of Cashel Garage

(Picture from early 1960s of my Dad’s garage)

There are a few reasons. First, the market for people interested in square concrete garages is probably very small. Second, coffee table books are very expensive to produce. Third, I’m not confident in my technical ability to take the kind of pictures I see in my mind. Fourth, I am way too afraid to approach the owner of a garage and explain my daydream. But, the main reason this idea will never become a reality…. is because the daydream has nothing to do with garages, it’s all about forgotten memories that fill us with bubbles of joy and we don’t even know why. That’s the great thing about travel, about daydreaming about being in the fresh air with no smartphone… you end up discovering something you didn’t know about yourself, something you didn’t know you didn’t know, if you follow me.

Close up

(I scanned the picture of my Dad’s garage above into my laptop today so that I might at least have one old garage picture. Then I noticed for the first time there’s an adult (my mother?) and child (me? my brother?) standing at the door to the shop)

Until the next journey, Mairead.

Obama and Me….

We’ve seen lots more beauty in the past two days since leaving Kilkee but we got a great surprise in a small town called Moneygall.

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(Beautiful place on Loop Head called Bridges of Ross)

Around noon I was hungry and we saw a cute little cafe in the town but it was closed so we travelled on for about a kilometre when we spotted a large service station that served Tim Hortons coffee.

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(Amazing view near the lighthouse at the tip of Loop Head)

The same coffee we had become addicted to in Canada! We stopped off and had some coffee. Then while we were there a lovely couple from America arrived.

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(Swallow feeding her chicks outside our bedroom at a farmhouse near Killaloe)

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to get a picture with them…


(Me and Obama)

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 Turns out it’s their holiday home in Ireland. Who knew? Mairead.