Might As Well Live

IMG_20160413_130322 I wrote the following piece a number of weeks ago when I was feeling really bad.  Not mad but really scared and panic-stricken.  I needed help. Not because I was feeling unwell but because I had a situation I couldn’t handle without outside help. What I got was verbal abuse and rejection.  Sometimes suffering from depression and “being crazy” are not an illness. Sometimes they are a reaction to circumstances and how people you treat you. The pain of being rejected and badly treated over and over again by the same people manifests itself in the anxiety and fear and other physical symptoms specific to me that have caused and been caused by whatever depressive illness I have. People I never expected to help me stepped in and saved the day. Strangers  offered help. My Twitter posse stopped me from losing all my chill.  My lovely kind friend couldn’t have done more for me. I didn’t intend to publish this piece. I haven’t blogged since I went viral. It didn’t suit me.  But I’m certain others suffer the same. Sometimes you think you’re depressed. They even tell you that you’re crazy. This piece should be called “It’s Not Me It’s You” because sometimes  you are not mad. It’s other people.

Something really good happened to me recently.  Amazingly good. I still haven’t taken it in. But as I tap this out, waiting for kick off in Paris where Ireland are about to play Sweden in #Euro2016,  I’m fighting to stay alive.  I am struggling to take each breath. My chest aches constantly. When I sleep I’m having rambling, anxious dreams and when I wake up from them in the early hours my heart is fluttering wildly and it feels like I’m about to die. My limbs are heavy. It is an effort to lift my arms. My fingers feel to big for this keyboard. When I walk I’m wading through a huge wall of heavy water. Sometimes it’s hot and sometimes icy cold. I cannot eat. When I do eat I can’t keep it in. My stomach is liquid. Today I spent 10 minutes locked in the bathroom vomiting up a sandwich I had forced myself to eat. I am however still alive.

Something really good happened to me. But the bad thoughts are back. They are clamped to my brain with long invisible claws that I cannot prize away. Something good happened but the people I wanted to be happy for me are not. They are silent. I fall back into the abyss of bad memories their silence creates. I am watching the ball go up and down the pitch in Paris and I feel nothing except my heart pounding too fast underneath my left breast.

Something good happened but I am having suicidal thoughts. I am not suicidal. I do not want to die. Thinking that I could ever leave my family makes me howl. My whole body wants to shut down. It’s both trying to protect me by taking away  my energy to  leave the house, and kill me with the physical symptoms it is imposing on me. I have been here before. I know I won’t be beaten. It is 20 years this year since I last gave in to the bad thoughts and tried to die. I refuse to do that now even though this creature on my brain is crushing me, twisting my chest.

Something good happened to me and if you meet me on the street this week, I will smile and make you laugh and complain about the rain and wonder about Brexit. You will not notice that it hurts for me to breathe. You will not notice that I want to cry. I will go home and help with homework and put on washing and watch the news and tweet. Be kind to the people you meet. There are others like me.

Something good happened but today is a bad day. Maybe tomorrow I will wake up with no pain in my chest and a lightness in my brain. Maybe tomorrow will be the day. I might as well live.

Olé Olé etc…

Drowning Not Sailing.

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Cartoon of the two Niamhs by my mother, circa 2012

Last Week I listened to broadcaster Olivia O’Leary talk about her experience of depression at the age of 24 on RTE Radio. At about 10 minutes in, she said something that made me need to lie down. When she realised she needed help, Olivia contacted her sister who brought her to a “terrific psychiatrist” and here’s where I needed resuscitation:”he used to take me out sailing”… “and god we had great fun”. Olivia O’Leary went sailing with her psychiatrist. This sentence just about summed up my entire experience of growing up in Ireland. Aged 24 she got the best and most personal treatment available and she recovered.

Since the interview went out Olivia O’Leary has been lauded for her bravery and praised for raising awareness. You know the script. We’ve heard it a lot lately.  Beautiful, successful people are queueing up to tell us all about their struggles and how if they can reach just one person then it’s been worth baring their soul. But you know how I feel after another inspirational interview, I feel worse. I feel inadequate. I feel that I’ve failed. Because guess what, I’m still unwell. I am not at the height of the glittering career I thought I had in front of me. I am surviving. I am alive.  I’ve been “battling” mental illness since I was 11 years old.  I thought I was an angsty hormonal teen, a misfit. I wasn’t. I was horribly intensely unwell. And 30 years later I am still not in full control of my mental health. And I have realised why. I thought I wasn’t brave enough. Not strong enough.  But that’s not it. The real reason I’m still here dreading every single day that comes to me is simple. I never went sailing with my psychiatrist. I wasn’t rich enough. I wasn’t connected enough.

By the time I had done my Leaving Cert I had managed to fix myself to such a degree that I achieved all A’s and B’s in my exams and had my pick of college courses. That ship however didn’t sail either. I hadn’t the money to take up the offers and aged 17 I can only say I spiralled into a mental fugue that worsened until I was in my mid thirties. By the time I sent myself to college I couldn’t even hold a conversation with another student. My most vivid college memory is hiding in the ladies toilets with a bottle of vodka, vomiting from stress and washing it back down with the alcohol because I had to go to a meeting with my thesis supervisor. I got an A. I have an Honours Degree but no college friends. No happy stories to tell. That’s what mental illness really looks like. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you covered in your own vomit.

For thirty years I have pushed myself through depression, severe anxiety, 2 and a half suicide attempts, and an eating disorder. Hi my name is Niamh and I’m a bulimic. I did not go sailing with any psychiatrists. I saw a counsellor who told me to go for walks and avoid cheesy food. Given that I can’t drive and hate cheese that advice wasn’t exactly top drawer. I have spent 30 years working on myself. I’ve walked, I’ve cried, I’ve done yoga, I’ve cycled, I’ve taken my medication ( the drugs do work), I’ve painted, I’ve worked, I’ve written poetry, I’ve been tattooed, I’ve drank, I’ve given up drink, I’ve shaved my head, I’ve run thousands of kilometres. But I’m still sick, unwell, mentally ill. Call it whatever you want, the words don’t bother me.

So when I see people like Olivia O’Leary or Niall Breslin telling me how to get better, I get mad (no laughing at the back) and I feel compelled to listen to angry rap music until I calm down.  I cried when I watched Bressie speak at the Lovin Dublin Live Show about his experiences with depression. Everything he said resonated. #JeSuisBressie and yet….. Bressie has become a much-needed advocate for mental health issues. We need reform, we need cash injected into services. We need education. There’s no arguing against that. What we also need are the opportunities for people to reach their full potential in this great country of ours. Not just the chance to make a viral video. Real chances. Education access for everyone. Jobs. Homes. Reasons to stay alive. The idea that somehow exercise and a chat will save your life is just demoralising. I could walk 500 miles and back and still be me. It’s like running away from a hump on your back. Would you tell me to go for a walk if I told you I had breast cancer. Would you tell me to join a running club or pick up that phone.  No you would not. #JeNeSuisPasBressie Because quite frankly these wellness campaigns, however well-intentioned, are making it too easy for our governments and health executives to dodge their responsibilities. It’s easy to back a popular campaign fronted by good looking successful men and women. It’s a lot harder to actually bring about real change in real people’s lives.  People like me, who have never gone sailing with their psychiatrist.

Copyright 2016 myindoorvoice.wordpress.com

 

 

I Am What I Am: A Rant

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IDENTIFY!

Twitter got weird this morning. Weirder than usual. I got my first death threat on the back of a months old tweet about everybody’s favourite Irish Senator and then managed to embroil myself in an argument about trans identity and bathrooms. Some people think that people who identify themselves as trans ( I hope I’m wording that right) are deluded, mistaken, disordered or even “fashionable”. Obviously the opinions of wilfully unkind and ignorant hate-mongers mean nothing next to the lived experience of trans men and women but I still got angry and engaged with the trolls. Trip trap and all that. However it did get me to thinking about my “identity” and how it shapes our world view and those of the haters.

 

I’m a white, Irish, cis woman. I’m heterosexual but definitely have girl crushes. Big ones. I used to be a Catholic but I don’t feel like one anymore. I still like hymns and I pray sometimes but I’m not fussy as to who is listening. I collect rocks because they make me feel safe and I have been known to worship them in a slightly religious way. I talk to a magpie I’ve made friends with when I go running and I have conversations with my Grandad about life at Barrington’s Pier. He passed away in 1996 but he listens and has on occasion answered me back. I suffer from depression, anxiety and bulimia. I can’t drive because I’m too scared and I think music makes most things feel better. As long as it isn’t Bryan Adams. I drink a lot of tea and eat too much toast.  I wear sunglasses all year round because they hide my face. That’s my identity. Am I deluded?

I’m married to a white, straight male Irish man. He doesn’t understand twitter. He’s from Tipperary but is glad he doesn’t live there anymore. He’s relatively normal compared to me. He knows nothing about sport and likes atrocious Heavy Metal music. He says he’s a Catholic but he wouldn’t know when to sit down or stand up at Mass. He loves engines and thinks he will one day own a HUGE motorbike (I have news for him). He can fix anything or try. As much as any of us can, he knows who he is. Is he deluded?

I have 3 Irish children. During the census discussions at home, my oldest child said she wanted to tick “no religion” but she felt that category didn’t really represent who she is either because culturally she is a Catholic and she doesn’t believe in nothing. She loves drama, rock music and her phone. She’s forming her own identity. My younger children believe in all sorts. They like hymns and Green Day and One Direction. One wants to be an artist when she grows up and plant all the flowers she can possibly plant. The other one thinks she’d like to be a waitress. Or a computer engineer. I don’t know yet if they will be gay or straight. They seem straight. However that would seem. All three of them go to school with people I would never have encountered in my youth. A quick list of the countries their friends are from would include : Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, Liberia, Belgium, Canada, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, USA. Oh and Cork. They know that some of their friends pray to the Buddha, some believe in Mohammed and some have no religion at all. This gives them no cause at all for concern. They accept it as part of their friends’ identities and go back to their skipping games ( not the Teen on that one, but you get me).

The point I’m trying to make is that my identity is as valid as yours. I own my own personality and what’s made me who I am. This is as true for the trans woman in a public bathroom in this country or North Carolina  as it is for the haters in the media, social or otherwise. I have never questioned my gender or my sexuality because I have been sure of them always. Other aspects of myself have not been as kind to me. But again I am what I am. People who love me accept me. Or put up with me.  I’m not always sure which. The hate just saddens me and then makes me very mad. Incredible Hulk level mad. What part of the typical troll identity makes them more right and more worthy of rights than those of us with a slightly different life experience. We are not all the same. But we are equal.   I am lucky enough to have a wonderful friend who is trans. She is one of the kindest, sanest and most genuinely decent people I have ever encountered. I’ve learned a lot from her about lots of things. She inspires me.  Her identity is bloody wonderful and if you want to hate her you’ll have to take me and all the rest of her crazy friends on too.

Rant over #LetUsPee

Copyright 2016 myindoorvoice.wordpress.com

Here I Am Lord.

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St Michael’s Church, Limerick 

Recently I was called a “Catholic apologist” online. By somebody in the legal profession too so I was kind of rattled. Kind of. But it got me thinking about how I see the Church and what I believe in. And Elvis. I think about him too a lot. But that’s another days work.
I decided I was an atheist in 6th class just before I made my Confirmation. I’d read Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham,  life was shit and where the fuck was God? And that was that or so I thought. Who in their right mind would believe in an all-powerful being they can’t see and will never see? Not me that’s who.
And then the Church imploded and I was right! The Church is dead. Priests are bastards. Nuns are evil. Etc and etc. As a nation, Ireland came out from under the shadow of the Catholic Church.  We got divorced. We got all sorts of contraception. We got married in registry offices and hotels. We acknowledged how we treated women forced to give their babies away because they hadn’t entered Holy Matrimony. We voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality. We ARE a new people. We have Ann Summers and nobody cares anymore that you can buy crotchless knickers on the same street as Mothercare. Obviously we have more to do. Twelve women a day are leaving this great nation to access abortion abroad so #repealthe8th but again another day’s work.

So there I was, a happy atheist ( when I say happy I mean suicidally depressed but you know what I mean) and then something happened. I got married. In a registry office. My mother in law never recovered. And I had children. To baptise or not to baptise. GODDAMN YOU ALL I’M AN ATHEIST. But it wasn’t that simple. I went to a Catholic school where the nuns were lovely and loved us all.  We were taught tolerance and that Jesus loves us all. We had a Joy Club and it was actually joyful. I told the priest at school that I was an atheist and we had a perfectly reasonable chat about it. He was a lovely man. Who was I to deny my children the benefit of a happy education. If they choose to embrace faith as part of their lives that’s their choice and if not and they reject it then that’s perfectly fine too. But I wanted to give them the option. So I did. So far so Irish.

But lately I’ve noticed that you can’t just be an atheist. You have to be an Atheist. Capital A. The Great Church of the UnGod. Atheism is a religion and a fundamentalist one at that. It’s become perfectly acceptable to sneer at people who have faith and pray or go to Mass. I’m still an atheist but I’m not at all happy with this creeping trend. Peak Atheism for me happened when the internet nearly blew up congratulating Stephen Fry for railing against an unjust god he doesn’t believe in on The Meaning of Life with our own Gay Byrne. Was there one dissenting voice? I certainly wasn’t brave enough to say: “You know what Fry? Fuck off you’re an ATHEIST”. Yesterday I witnessed a good, decent man who is also a priest being called a “sky pilot” on social media while he discussed an epidemic of suicide in his parish on the radio. He was angry and he was sad. 8 suicides in 3 weeks. Think about that. In one county. BUT HE’S A SKY PILOT. DON’T LISTEN TO HIM. Have we forgotten that priests are on the frontline when it comes to grief. They’re at deathbeds every day. They are at the homes of bereaved parents and wives and husbands after the most tragic events. They offer the only comfort they can, which is their faith. Have we really come to a point where we think it’s acceptable to pour scorn on every man of the cloth simply because he is one. That’s not the New Ireland is it?  I’m not ready to reject what was part of my cultural upbringing. I went to Mass everyday with my Granny. I loved it. It was an important part of her day. She had friends. She was part of the Church. I’ve had friends and relations  who have endured great personal tragedy and they took enormous comfort from prayer. They had to believe there was a reason, a better place. Maybe nothing changed but they felt in some small way better.  I’ve been to the pit of despair more than once in my life and I’ve cried out desperate prayers to the Blessed Virgin or whoever would listen to me to help. And I felt helped. I felt better. I sang hymns on that boat back from England.  I can’t say I believe in God but I won’t laugh at anyone who does. I won’t demonise good priests or the lovely nuns who teach my children. I’m Irish. I collect rocks to keep me safe. I’m a Catholic atheist. And proud to be one.

Who Runs the World …….Girls?

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Who Runs the World…………..Girls? #IWD2016

It’s 2016 and some people are wondering why we need an #InternationalWomensDay at all.  Maybe someday we won’t need a day to make people aware of women-centric issues. That day has not come yet.

I realised I was a Feminist (capital F) when I was 8 years old. My mother, who had her own income from work, took me with her to a local department store to apply for a store card. All went swimmingly well until the very nice woman behind the desk said: “And your husband needs to sign here”. Suitably chastened by her gender, my mother took the form and went home. Now my mother does have a husband, known to me as my father, but he was not likely to sign that form. So my mother did what any slightly rebellious woman might have done…… if you catch my drift.

But so what right? Times have moved on. Women, even married ones, can have jobs and overdrafts and credit cards no matter what name they use. And what name do you choose? When I got married I kept the name I was born with because I’M A FEMINIST. It still confuses people. They assume either I am not married to my husband or that indeed my surname has already been changed and he is in fact Mr. Niamh. He doesn’t mind too much cos ya know #NotAllMen!! Again, so what. I’ll take the cheque made out to either name but isn’t it the extremely thin end of a massive wedge?

When my middle daughter was a baby she had very little hair. Just a brown tuft in the middle of her head. Her favourite coat was a dark grey wool jacket with cat ears on the hood. She also had an extremely funny and smiley face so when we were out and about strangers would stop me to speak to her. She was invariably mistaken for a boy child. The friendly strangers were in no way trying to insult me by telling me what a lovely little boy I had; my point is that her little grey coat was such a signifier to them of maleness that it never occurred to them the funny little boy could be a girl. If the coat had been pink, they would have instantly known.

I like to run and so does my husband, but he has never once come home from a run crying or phoned me half way through a run because he was afraid. I gave up running in the dark early evenings of winter because I was sick of being scared. I’ve had “c**t” shouted at me. I had a bottle thrown at me out of a car. I’ve been followed. A very well dressed man once barked at me as I ran past him near my house. I’ve had a car full of young men drive along side me jeering and hooting the car horn. People tell me to join a running group. “Don’t run alone. That’s asking for trouble.” But I like running by myself. It’s my THING. I think. I talk to myself. I pretend I’m being interviewed by Oprah. But it’s not worth the pain. I am over 40 and I won’t run alone in the dark.

Let’s not forget that I’m an Irish woman so even God can’t help me if I’m pregnant and don’t want to be. The Queen might though.  Read this piece by Kitty Holland about the horrific treatment meted out to Ms Y, if you haven’t already, and tell me we don’t need #InternationalWomensDay.

I have a list of things much less important than #repealthe8th but no less representative of how women are perceived.  I challenge you to watch the genuinely funny buddy movie The Hangover and follow it up by the “female friendly” companion piece that was Bridesmaids. One was a hilarious tale of friends getting into trouble and looking out for each other til the very end; the other was a tale of jealousy, vulgarity and backstabbing best friends. Hollywood really loves women. Star Wars and Superhero fans I challenge you to find a Princess Leia or Wonder Woman  doll in a high street toy store. They just don’t have a place in the Boys Aisle and don’t start me on Lego Friends in the pink aisle. Parents, are your female children allowed to wear trousers to school the same as the boys?

These are just a few concerns of a white, Irish, middle class (ish) cis woman with an honours degree in English. I’m lucky. My children have access to education and medical treatment. We have warm beds, food and clean water. I am free to travel.  I’ll leave you with this article from the Huffington Post on access to female sanitary products in the Third World. I might not feel compelled to go horse riding, swimming or play tennis once a month but in relative terms I’m a very lucky girl. Periods matter. But that’s a blog for another day. November 19th maybe, #InternationalMensDay!

#IWD2016 💋

 

 

None of the Above?

IMG_20160221_173646I’ve been thinking a lot about politicians lately. Not in a sexy way or anything; although I would make an exception for John Lyons TD for Dublin North West if he wasn’t gay and I wasn’t married. (Apologies etc.) The election is days away and elections force us all to think more about politicians than we’d probably like. I’ve had odd twitter conversations about the semiotics of Willie O’Dea’s moustache for instance.  But this being 2016 and the centenary of our great Rebellion, it seems more important than ever before to vote in #GE16.

From what I know of Irish people, we like elections. We love our politics as much as we seem to loathe our politicians. I have always voted ever since I’ve been eligible to, believing it’s my duty as an Irish citizen.  So in the best show of electoral pride and national enthusiasm I can muster I have endeavoured to make my decision. Just who will get my precious Number 1 and the possibility of the coveted TD’s salary ? I have trawled all my candidates’ websites. I’ve read all their leaflets. I’ve hashtagged #vinb and #cblive like it really mattered. I’m listening to radio talk shows til I’m even interviewing myself about who I’m going to vote for. But Dear Reader I cannot decide.

We have all heard all the promises. A few thousand social housing units here, a few hundred thousand jobs there. No waiting lists for anything. Ever again. No taxes unless you’re a millionaire. Something like that. But without getting personal ( John Lyons aside. Sorry John. I do not have a photo in my purse. HONEST), it’s easy to talk. I don’t want to use the next phrase but I have to. During the boom (sorry) the boys above in the Galway tent couldn’t shorten the hospital waiting lists when people I knew were bringing their children to school by helicopter. In Limerick.  And no, they weren’t drug dealers.

Well the helicopters are gone so what do I want? I’m from Limerick and I want jobs. All the jobs. I want my city to be taken seriously and I want Regeneration to happen. I’m a woman. I want #repealthe8th to happen in my lifetime. Because it’s not just a slogan. I have children so I want to know that if they were ever sick, they would be seen and not put on a list to wait 3 and 4 years. I’m a citizen of this country and I want homes for the hundreds of children and their families who are currently living in hotel accommodation. Those are my priorities. And I’ve lost faith in the power of any government to deliver on these and many other issues.

I’m closely related to somebody who has always spoiled their vote in General Elections. Those of you who know me from twitter can guess who that might be. They take great care in choosing their ballot-spoiling words and believe very firmly in their right to do so.This method of using my democratic right has never appealed to me. Until now. Both my grandfathers were active Labour men and would be appalled to hear such a thing. But I’m listening  and I’m seeing and I’m getting no closer to feeling represented or heard. None of the above is starting to look like an option.

When Leaves Attack

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My oldest child pointed out in conversation the other day that she will be 15 this summer. While that in itself is a reason for pause, because clearly I’m now old, what really stopped me dead was the vision I suddenly had of myself at that age. I remember 15 far too clearly for comfort so I try not to think about it much. 15 was the year of the leaves. The year the leaves attacked.

Think Jaws the movie and you’ll be half way to understanding. I wasn’t Jaws by the way, that was the leaves. I was the daft girl on a rubber boat. With no paddle. I’m not sure what triggered the leaf terror.  There was no horrific leaf experience but gradually over a period of a few weeks from September of that year and on past my 15th birthday I became utterly petrified of leaving the house when I knew I would have to walk past leaves on the ground. I was in Third Year in school and the path there and back  was a leaf-lined Hell. Living in one of my city’s leafier suburbs had never been less attractive to me. I had to map every step of the route according to where I knew the enemy lay in wait. And if it rained just forget about it. I held on to walls. I clung to railings. I once hid in a phonebox. I HID FROM LEAVES IN A PHONEBOX. In  January and February alone of that year, I missed 6 weeks of school and dozens more besides.  I bunked off at every opportunity I could. I sneaked home to hide in bed or I hid in various corners of the town devoid of leaves or people who would know I should be at school. The graveyard was a good spot. The misery and pain of such an existence lead to my first suicide attempt. At 15. Only my Rasputin-esque stomach prevented me from dying or doing permanent damage to myself. I spent 24 hours vomiting from the tablets I took but at least the leaves hadn’t won. However it didn’t feel like a victory at the time.

Now, as an adult who has struggled with poor mental health for most of my life I still think of that year as one of the worst. I am shaking even writing about those bastard leaves. The nasty wet smelly puddles of weeks-old horsechestnut leaves outside the house at the traffic lights. The bouncy stacks of dry leaves piled up looking so gorgeously Autumnal outside the church across the road. But who knew what lay beneath them? How was I supposed to walk?  When I think about how I felt that year I have no explanation but then you can’t rationalise mental illness. I wish I’d known I was unwell. I wish I’d known I was severely depressed and suffering from extreme levels of anxiety . I just thought I was weird. A freak . I cut myself off from all my friends at school and convinced myself they were all talking about me and laughing. I wonder now why nobody noticed that I was visibly in the throes of a breakdown. I blamed myself at the time of course. I told not a single soul so nobody offered to help me. But what did my parents think I was doing? Rebelling? My teachers, who would make sarcastic comments when I did show up in school, did they not notice an intelligent student slowly falling apart? I was a  good girl, slowly dying, because of leaves. But nobody noticed. Things are different now I’m told. I really hope this is true.

The leaf madness arrived gradually but it left me overnight. One morning the following October I woke up and simply knew it was gone. The sky was blue outside my bedroom window and I got up and went to school.

Copyright 2016 Neev.ie and myindoorvoice.wordpress.com

Everyone’s Gone to the Moon

It’s hard to put into words what this song meant to a 15 year old in the very pit of despair who mostly sat in her room drawing circles. She couldn’t go out because she was scared to death of leaves. Instead of putting it into words, I’ll just leave it here. #BowieLives

 

Kiss Me, I’m Irish

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St. Patrick’s Day happens every year on March 17th. It’s one day and today isn’t it, but do a tour of Pound Shops and Penneys like I did this morning and you’d be seeing quite a lot of green. And it’s not pretty. Forty shades of ghastly green Oirishness. Is this all we’ve got? Is “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” really funny ? Or the one that always baffles me “I’m an Irish Princess”. Really? Or even why?

Synonymous with drunkeness the world over St. Patrick’s Day is our National Aren’t We Gas Craic Day. And I’ve had enough. If a drunken stranger tries to kiss me on March 17th because I’m an Irish bloody princess, I’ll thump him. Or her. My t shirt is going to read GET THE F**K AWAY FROM ME YOU GOWL.