Category Archives: Writing

A Fist of Beetroots from the Tattie Hoaker

The Tattie Hoaker Community Farm in North Sligo is run by Good Guys Organics. You can find them here.

This article was published in Africa Magazine.


A Brigid / Time Traveller / Nativity Story

Midwife at the Birth

She went into the stable and was in time to aid and minister to the Virgin Mother, and to receive the Child into her arms…

Genealogy of Brigid (451-525 AD), Carmina Gadelica
Nativity with Midwife 1913 Eric Gill

Brigid threw her eyes to heaven as the priest droned his way through the gospel. It’s as if he’s telling a dirge for a death, she thought, not an anthem for a birth and the best story of the year. But he’s a good man, gentle with the novices and their small sins, and not given to fawning over the pretty ones. Her mind drifted. Was it cold there, cold as this stone church on Christmas Eve? How did that poor frightened girl manage with only her old husband to help? The innkeeper’s wife would have been too busy – the shepherds knew how to deliver a lamb, they might have known been some help – but the angels waited until after the baby was born before they sang their Hosannas. Not a lick of sense between them. Why on earth didn’t Gabriel ask a midwife to be present for the birth?

The scraping of pews broke her reverie. She wrapped her green shawl close and took her place at the back, behind the line of monks and nuns. She noticed that Mother Muireann’s limp was getting worse, that Sister Imelda needed to mend her hem. She inched her way toward the altar, her breath fogging the chill air.

“Corpus Christi.”

The host dissolved on her tongue. She bowed her head and prayed, her body suffused with the light of God incarnate. Her slave-born mother’s words flashed through her mind. You have the spirit of a nun, Brigid, and the soul of a poet, and the hands of a skilful midwife. As the choir sang the recessional hymn, she fizzed with fear and excitement. Can it be done? Could I do it?


When the abbey was fast asleep, Brigid rose from her bed. The Chapel of the Flame reminded her, as it always did, of a small child nestled beneath the protection of the great winter oak. She laid one hand on fissured bark, one hand on lichened stone, breathing deep, asking for courage. Then she lifted the latch and opened the door. Áine was dozing on a bench at the far side of the fire.

“Sister Áine.”

The young nun snapped awake. “Mother Brigid!”

“I will tend the flame tonight. You may go to your bed.”


She gazed into the leaping flames, seeing again the old woman, the one who had tended the flame before the coming of the Christ-story. They shared the same name, Brigid, woman of valour. The old Brigid had been the last of her kind, the seer-women who communed with the goddesses and gods of old Ireland. She remembered her words: This flame sits over the eye of a holy well. It is a marriage of sacred water and sacred fire. It will not burn your flesh. This flame is a doorway into the time before, and a doorway into the time that is to come. If your intention is pure, this flame will take you where you need to go. She had never, in all her years as abbess, tested the truth of the old Brigid’s story. Because, she thought, I am still wary of the pagan mysteries, I worry that their power might seduce me away from the Christ-story. But now, tonight, my intention is pure – none purer – to serve the Mother of God. She thrust her hand in, whipped it out. The small hairs on the back of her fingers had not been singed. She reached in again, felt a liquid coolness. She stared at the drops of dew in her palm.

Do it now, she told herself, before your courage fails. She cleared a level space in the centre of the fire with the poker, then closed her eyes. With her inner eye she saw where she needed to go – the stable – the ox and the ass – the young woman, her belly huge with child – the old man Joseph – the guiding star.

She stepped in.

She was standing in the middle of a forked tree, three splayed trunks fanning out, one bent low to touch the ground. Between her feet, between the sister-trunks, she found the small un-burning flame, her pathway home. She sighed with relief. A drunk sang a tuneless song, someone shouted at him to shush. She became aware of the bustle of the inn – the star – the lamp-lit stable.

She stepped out from between the tree-trunks and walked across the sandy ground. Through the open doorway she saw Mary and Joseph, the young woman’s face knotted with pain, the old man’s face racked with fear. She knocked on the lintel.

“Greetings,” she said. “I am Brigid of Ireland. I have come to be midwife at the birth of your child.”

The Colour Red Has Many Flavours

I’m delighted that my flash fiction has won the Myslexia # 91 Flash Challenge. You can read Judge Meg Pokrass’s generous comments below.

The Colour Red Has Many Flavours is a potent story of realization. In this epiphanic moment, a woman in an abusive relationship recognizes what she’s been living in, as if waking up from a terrible dream. The way the story builds makes us see, through the main character’s perspective, just how unhappy she has become. Earned through the careful crafting of language and world building, the author brings realistic and often shocking insight. This insight comes from the sort of questioning that ensues when something bleak is transformed by a moment of brightness or when something seemingly mundane is suddenly revealed as earth-shattering. Because the story is loaded with masterful use of sensory detail, and the reader is treated to a most satisfying ending—something we wish happened more often in the real world.

Meg Pokrass

Unto us a Child is Born

Newborn, Nimule, South Sudan – Monica Corish

Unto us a Child is Born

On 25 August 2020, after four years without a single case, the African region was certified free of wild polio virus.

In 1994, a few days after I arrived in the border town of Nimule in South Sudan, I woke in the night to a bone-chilling cry. It reminded me of an Irish caoineadh, a keening for the dead. In the morning I heard that a baby had died of measles. I was stunned. I knew, from book-learning, that measles can damage the nerves, the eyes, the ears, the brain. I knew in my head that measles can be fatal, but in my heart I still thought of it as a benign childhood disease.

The epidemic raged through the small town, taking the children who were weak, malnourished, immuno-compromised. Night after night I heard the songs of grief – five children dead, still more facing lifelong disability – and then silence. The epidemic had burned itself out.


I was in Nimule to train community health workers, and to help with a programme of immunisation. With a team of South Sudanese and Kenyan health workers, I visited local villages and camps. Everywhere we went we offered immunisation against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, tuberculosis and polio.

I met a young woman in one of the villages. She held her baby to her breast, in a wrap made out of a food sack. I asked how old her baby was. One week, she said. I asked if I could see. She unfolded the wrap and showed me her child. I can’t remember if it was a boy or a girl – I can’t remember the young woman’s name – I only remember her grace, her weathered hand holding her child, the newborn’s sleeping perfection. I asked the young woman if I could take a photograph of her baby. She said yes.


In 1994 an estimated 75,000 children across Africa were paralysed for life by the polio virus. Thousands of those children died when the virus paralysed their breathing muscles. Nelson Mandela, the recently elected president of South Africa, refused to accept this ongoing tragedy. “When people are determined,” he said, “they can overcome anything.” In 1996, in partnership with Rotary International, Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” campaign. Footballs with the slogan showed up everywhere – in stadiums, in school yards, on dusty soccer pitches. Communities, parents, health workers, volunteers, churches, mosques, governments, donors – they all came together, united by one aim – to immunise every child on the continent against this crippling disease.


On 25 August 2020, after four years without a single case, the 47 countries in the Africa region of the World Health Organisation were certified free of the wild polio virus. Today, because of the committed work of thousands of health workers and volunteers, more than 18 million people are able to walk, people who would otherwise have been paralysed by the virus.

But the fight against polio in Africa isn’t over yet. In Ireland, children are given an injectable vaccine that contains a dead form of the virus. This injectable form is expensive. Less well-off countries have to use an oral vaccine which contains an weakened form of the virus. In very rare circumstances this weakened virus can itself cause polio.

And so, although a huge milestone has been reached, immunisation and outbreak surveillance continue, and efforts are underway to make the injectable form of the virus available to everyone, everywhere. The journey continues, until the day when polio, like smallpox, is completely eradicated from the face of the earth.


That photo I took of the mother and her newborn has stayed with me over the years. I keep it close, on the door of my fridge, tucked into a diary, pinned to a corkboard.

I imagine this child grown to adulthood – I like that I don’t know whether it’s a girl or a boy – not knowing increases my sense of the possible lives this child may have led. I imagine that the infant in the photograph is a parent now, with children of their own. I imagine a baby, grandchild to the mother in the photograph, born into a world that is entirely free from the threat of polio.


This article 1st appeared in the Christmas 2020 issue of Africa Magazine. You can read more about the eradication of polio in Africa on these websites:; Rotary International’s website; the Global Polio Eradication Initiative; and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance

Mother and Newborn, Nimule, South Sudan – Monica Corish

“The Air is Alive with Fear and Care” @AllinghamArts #CreativityAgainstCorona

The Air is Alive with Fear and Careriver and tree

When people greet in South Sudan, they hold hands for many minutes – half an hour if the warmth is strong, the bond of kin or friendship. How is your mother? Your aunt? Your son? And your herd of cattle – thriving? Did the speckled cow survive the difficult birth?

Now the air crackles between us, friend or stranger, in every nation. Two metres. Six feet, the length and depth of a coffin. I walk a narrow path in the woods, meet a man with an unleashed terrier. Will he step to his side, mirror my care? He does.

We smile, we breathe a sigh. The air is alive with fear and care.

On the lake the Swans continue their slow courtship. I am learning the songs of the residents – Blackbird, Robin, Song Thrush, Wren – while they have the forest to themselves.

The evenings are longer by the day. There is no call to quarantine the birds. Larks exhilarate, Starlings murmurate, dark swirls against a clouded sky.

Soon the explorers will arrive from Africa – Cuckoo and Swallow, the creaking Corncrake, not yet extinct. Our small island will levitate with their cacophony, their mating joy. They will tell again their noisy stories, how they navigate by star maps and the magnets in their eyes.

Leave us our green walks, I pray.

O makers of the rules of wise restraint, let me be close to the wisdom of Hazel, let me watch her leaves unfurl out of the cell of winter.

I can do this, I tell myself. Cocoon. Lock-down. Self-isolate.

And if they say I cannot walk between the trees, there is still my garden, small and unruly, in need of love.

I can do this, however long it takes.

If every day I can rinse my heart clean of fear. If I can fill my lungs with God’s green air.

ghamArts #CreativityAgainstCorona

Planning Permission for a Bee Hotel – Sunday Miscellany, October 13

Here’s my piece, “Planning Permission for a Bee Hotel“, broadcast on Sunday Miscellany on October 13 – in celebration of wrens, bees, hedgehogs, and the excellent people at  and the Organic Centre. Thanks too to Sarah Binchy and Carolyn Dempsey of Sunday Miscellany, and all at the Abbey Art Centre, Ballyshannon. To hear the full programme, with Olive Travers, Little John Nee, Winifred McNulty, and Denise Blake, plus excellent music, click here.