Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Roxie the cat was having trouble eating her dry food. That was the start of it. She would try to swallow the little nuggets instead of chewing them(...)

‘The Black Madonna of Czestochowa is not a woman who does small wonders: her concerns are on a grander scale.’  Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

I saw few crutches in the monastery of Jasna Góra. I saw no gaudy wall of hanging bandages, arm slings or prosthetic limbs to tell the world that m(...)

The suitcase. Full of college note books, a camera and some letters.  Photograph: Getty

Last week I opened a big old-fashioned black suitcase that came from America long ago, and I found a photograph of an American girl inside, leaning ag(...)

Anti-water charge protesters outside the Irish Water head office on Talbot Street at the end of November. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

In Leitrim the rain drifts in from the Atlantic and falls on to my roof. It runs in rivulets to the guttering beneath the eaves, until it finds a down(...)

‘There was no sound as delicious as my neighbour’s tractor in a field of grass as he sat steering and twisting his head to watch the rake toss the mown grass into perfect lines behind him.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

A neighbour of mine died recently after a few years of ill health. He was a quiet man who never married but was good to the mother and was cherishe(...)

I was in a restaurant near St Stephen’s Green in Dublin last week, enjoying a panino stuffed with ham, cheese and tomato, when two young men came i(...)

The master of the accordion, Tony McMahon (above) often repeated a single tune over and over again at concerts, using it like a chant, drawing people in. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

I was trying to protect the firewood from the rain last week because I have no shed. I got scaffolding that had been lying in the grass since the b(...)

‘It was humbling to be among so many women.’ Photograph: Thinkstock

I was in a room recently with 250 women. There were only two other men present, a waiter and a guitar player who plucked his guitar on the stage as(...)

Sloe and steady: a blackthorn bush

Once upon a time an old man introduced me to a blackthorn bush. It was in November. I was fishing near the lake, and, as usual when I got a big pik(...)

‘I have a friend with long, black hair and a precious fiddle. He pulls the bow across the low strings, bleeding a deep sound out of them, like a shaman opening a door to the other world.’ Photograph: Thinkstock 5:18

I asked a monk one time what his best advice was for a happy life. He looked me in the eye and said, “Be here now”. He didn’t have much English(...)