Blue Skies: A Day Out Skydiving

Life Experiences, stories

In life, we all want to do something that we never expect to do. It may be wind-surfing, scuba-diving or, in my case, skydiving. Up until I was twenty, I had never really thought of anything like skydiving. My focus at that point was to pass my second year exams and secure a place on Erasmus. Well, that changed when I joined the DCU Cancer Society that year.

Wearing my orange jumpsuit, getting ready for the skydive! (Credit: Sean Gallagher)

The Cancer Society held quite a few fundraising events, one of which was a skydiving session in County Longford. We were given charity sheets and our goal was to raise as much money as we could for the Light It Up Gold Cancer Foundation by the time the skydive took place in April 2016.

This event and the society was really personal to me – I had lost both of my grandmothers to cancer and my own mother survived ovarian cancer when she was in her twenties. I have a young cousin in America who, at only seven years old, contracted a very rare form of lukeamia and required a bone marrow transplant from his older sister. His battle inspired me to take on this challenge and raise however much money as I could.

Over the next few months, I did everything to gather up money. I reached out to my friends, family members, people who worked with my parents, telling them what I was going to do, what I needed. People were generous, they gave whatever they could, whether it be a euro or a cent. By the time the weekend came when I was to travel to Longford for the jump, I had managed to raise €500 for the charity which was an accomplishment in itself. I was very proud of myself for that.

The day finally came and a bus was to take the jumpers to Longford. I forced myself out of bed at about five in the morning, to walk the fifteen minutes to the DCU campus. The cold weather woke me up a little bit, but as the minibus trailed on, I ended up dozing off.

There were only eight of us doing the jump in total. We were to be attached to a regulated instructor and they would take us out on a plane. We had to sign papers and watch a safety video about being stapped into a harness. Watching the video, my thoughts turned to a storyline I had watched in Hollyoaks when a character, Sarah fell to her death during a skydive after her parachute didn’t open. It was a murder-gone-wrong, the parachute deliberately sabotaged but even so, I was still a tiny bit apprehensive, wondering what would happen if my own parachute didn’t open!

Everyone was changed into orange jumpsuits and introduced to the instructors. They led us outside where the instructors would help us into the harnesses. It was a little bit awkward to move about wearing it, I felt a little bit like a robot! But as long as we were safe and ready to go out into the air, that was all that mattered.

There was a surprise waiting for me outside. In the car-park, standing by the gate was my dad and my uncle, who had travelled all the way from Monaghan just to see me jump from an airplane! I knew that my mum and sister had gone to Donegal to see my grandad that weekend, but I had given no thought that anyone was going to see me that day! Looking back on it, I think it’s best that my mother didn’t come – she hates anything to do with heights!

I’ll be brutally honest – the worst thing about that day was not the jump itself. It was the waiting! We were at the area at nine, but the plane was so small, it could only take two of us at a time. There were eight of us doing the jump and I was part of the last two. It took a credible amount of time for the plane to take off, for the people to do their jump and to get the parachutes reset. I had gotten to the stage where I thought that I would never get to do it!

But at long last, just before three o’clock, myself and my instructor were called and we were prepared for the jump. I was given a pair of goggles to protect my eyes and I was firmly strapped to the instructor. We were taken into the plane and it set off. That was when the nerves began to come.

My stomach was in knots, I could feel myself shaking a little bit. It didn’t help that I was sitting right next to the door that would open and let us out! The instructor told me that when we were to jump, I had to keep my hands crossed and my head leaned back until further instruction. I was scared, but it was too late to back out now!

My instructor opened the plane door and the cold air slapped me in the face. He manouvered us to jump out; my legs were dangling outside, which made me even more scared. I remember crying out ‘No, no, no, no!’, before suddenly, we were falling.

I shut my eyes for about a second but the rush forced me to open them. My mouth dropped open in shock at the sight of the world so far below us. The instructor tapped my shoulder and I spread my arms out like an eagle soaring through the clouds.

The wind blew hard in my face, the force was very strong. It may sound like a cliche, but it really felt like I was flying. The world felt so small beneath me, I forgot about everything else that was going on and just concentrated on the feeling of being in the air.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp tug and instead of falling, we were floating. Much to my great relief, the parachute opened perfectly and I could finally see everything at a normal pace. My voice had a mind of its own, I couldn’t stop cheering and crying out ‘Oh my God!’ It felt amazing to be so high above everything else. My dad joked afterward that they could hear me before they saw me!

After the skydive, holding a certificate of completion. (Credit: Shona Gallagher)

The instructor allowed me to hold the handle and steer the parachute so we were spinning around in a circle. He had a camera system attached to his wrist, so he told me to smile in the camera’s direction while we floated downward.

As we got closer to the ground, my instructor told me to lift my legs so I wouldn’t injure myself when we landed. In all honesty, I didn’t think I would have the strength to do it, but somehow, I managed to get my hands under my calves and lift my legs just about right. All too soon, we hit the ground, landing with a bump. For a split second, we were engulfed in parachute fabric before we were freed.

It took me quite a while to get my breath back. The adrenaline was still rushing through me, I still could not believe that I had just done. I had successfully jumped out of a plane from 10,000 feet up in the sky, my parachute didn’t break (thanks be to Christ!), and I had raised €500 for a children’s charity. That day, I was very proud of myself.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get back up in the air and jump out of a plane again?

An Exotic Among Common: What It’s Really Like to Live With an Unusual Name

Life Experiences, stories

If you were to go into a gift shop and see a rack advertising name tags or magnets, you are never going to see my name.

E.I.D.H.N.E (Credit: Bobby O’Rinn)

Eidhne.

E.I.D.H.N.E

An unusual name with a very unusual spelling. To this day, I still am not sure how my mother and father decided on this name for their eldest daughter. Maybe it came from one of the nine Saint Eidhnes. (maybe the one who was Saint Colmcille’s mother). Or maybe it came from my mother’s never-ending love and fascination for the Irish language.

But even Eidhne is not really common amongst Irish names. The most popular Irish names for girls are Aoife, Sarah, Ciara and Niamh. I’ve never known any other Eidhne. I know that there is the amazing Irish singer and the spelling of her actual name ‘Eithne’ bears a very strong resemblence to my own, but to me, it doesn’t count.

Having a name like mine, meant I already stood out among the crowd no matter where I went. As a shy child, I found it very embarassing. In primary school, it wasn’t too bad, being so young, nobody really questioned my name, the strange spelling or the correct way to pronounce it. I think it was because I had my mum at the time and she was the one who saved me from questions.

But as I grew into a teenager, I had to learn how to stand on my own in regards to my name. I remember starting in secondary school, when every teacher would call registration. They would come to my name, pause and struggle with the pronunciation, until eventually, I had to speak up and say it correctly. I still remember the burning feeling I would get in my cheeks whenever that happened.

Hearing people pronounce my name wrong really began to get on my nerves, particularly when they would follow it up by saying ‘Oh, like the singer?’. It took every ounce of patience inside of me not to lose my temper with people like that. For years, I stayed right away from any of poor Enya’s music because of that. I was very unfair to her as a teenager; I realise now that it wasn’t our fault that we had such unusual names that nobody could pronounce correctly!

It was also very annoying to go shopping and see name labels, tags and little figurines, with all sorts of different names on display. No matter where I went, no matter how much I searched, I would never find anything with my name on it. I felt a bit left out because of that!

There were times when I wondered what it would be like if I had a different name. A normal name. Well, ‘normal’ in my eyes anyway!

I think that was why I found such comfort in Jacqueline Wilson’s books. It was a relief to read her stories and find people with names as crazy as my own. Her book, Cookie really touched me; I felt so much sympathy for the main character, Beauty, a girl who is constantly teased and bullied because of her name. By the end of the story, she finds a new friend who also has an unusual name, Princess and they end up forming their own Unusual Name Club. That was really opened my eyes and realised, that it’s okay to have an unusual name.

As a matter of fact, I have realised that I’m very lucky to have the name that I have. When I hear of celebrities having children and the names that they give, I think to myself ‘Thank God, I don’t have a name like that!’ I used to think Eidhne was a ridiculous name – but that was before I heard what a certain rapper and reality star had named their kids!

The funny thing about having an unusual name with a strange pronunciation, is that it can be such an ice-breaker when meeting new people. A couple of years back, I was invited to a friend’s wedding in Carlisle. Myself and two other friends were travelling together and attended the ceremony. The wedding was beautiful and we had a wonderful time at the reception. But beforehand, the three of us were a little bit nervous, because aside from the bride, we didn’t know anybody at the wedding.

But we needn’t have worried. We arrived at the reception, and soon people were being shown where we would sit for dinner. Every place setting had a little name card. I was sitting down at my place when the man sitting beside me took one look at my name card and said ‘Right, how do you pronounce that?’. And from there, myself and my friends were there, chatting away to all of the guests at our table, laughing at their stories. Honestly, if it had not been for my name, I think the three of us would have just sat there like sour lemons the whole night, too shy to say anything! So my name certainly helped us to have such a fantastic night!

While growing up, I hated having to live with such a strange name, I now feel proud to know that I do stand out from the crowd. I think it’s good that I have a name that doesn’t appear on the figurines and labels that are sold in the shops. It shows that my name is different. One of a kind.

Now, I say my name with a lot of pride – but I think I’ll be more kinder to my own children when it comes to choosing their names!

At a wedding in Carlisle. From left to right: Emily Edwards, Georgina Pearce, Elina Luukanan, Eidhne Gallagher (Credit: Melissa Adams)

Behind the Bookcase: Visiting the Anne Frank House

Amsterdam, Anne Frank, Life Experiences, stories, travel

I’ll never forget when I received my history book in third class. It was nothing extravagant, just a simple children’s history book about famous people and events. I was flicking through the book without much interest, when my eyes noticed a name that I had never heard of before.

Anne Frank.

Anne Frank posing for her school photograph, 1941. (Credit: Anne Frank House)

To this day, I do not remember what caused me to become so interested in this girl. We studied her story in school, but we were only taught the bare minimum. I needed to know more. I began to search for books about Anne, watched movies about her and of course, read the most famous book of all; her diary. As a matter of fact, I read Anne’s diary so much, that my copy fell apart and I had to buy another one!

Anne Frank has become symbolic for all the Jewish children who tragically lost their lives during the Holocaust. In 1942, she and her family went into hiding behind a bookcase in her father’s office which would become known as ‘The Secret Annexe’. While in hiding, she would go on to write her famous diary, hoping one day, it could be published. They stayed in hiding for just over two years, before they were finally discovered by the Nazis in 1944. Anne would ultimately die in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March 1945. She didn’t even live to see her sixteenth birthday.

As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, an off-color joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. ….

Anne Frank, 1 August 1944 – 3 days after this entry, the people hiding in the Secret Annexe were discovered

It was Otto Frank, Anne’s father (and only survivor of the group), who would push for his daughter’s diary to be published. It would go on to become one of the most widely read books in the world. For the rest of his life, Otto Frank dedicated his life to promoting his daughter’s work and to teach about intolerance and discrimation in society.

For years, I begged my parents to take me to Amsterdam, so I could visit 263 Prinsengracht where Anne and her family had stayed for those two years. After multiple disappointments and ending up in the same boring villa in Lanzarote every year, I realized that I would have to take myself to Amsterdam when the time came.

That chance finally came in 2016, when I had just settled into my Erasmus year in a small town in Germany. Just over a month in, a friend said that there was a company promoting day trips to Amsterdam for €60. Pretty expensive, but for a day trip to a city that I had wanted to go to for years, I was willing to pay for it!

That day trip began at 6am in the morning when the bus began the long trek from Trier to Amsterdam. Me and my friend managed to doze for a while, while the bus bumped along the road. It was nearly 12pm by the time we finally reached the cobbled streets of Amsterdam. We had booked our tickets for the Anne Frank House in advance, so we’d escape the queues.

Now, I’ll admit, it was a challenge to find the right street. I’m grateful to the citizens of Amsterdam, who were very friendly and did their best to help us find our way. Once I saw the street sign that read ‘Prinsingracht’, I knew that we were finally going in the right direction.

As we managed to skip the queue, my friend and I were able to enter the museum. The tour began in the workhouse, where the company would produce spices everyday. I remember reading how the people in hiding had to remain quiet as mice when the men were working. Many have wondered if one of the workmen became suspicious and found out, which resulted in the arrest. Nobody knows… and we probably never will.

The tour continued into the offices, where Miep Gies (the woman who ultimately rescued Anne’s diary after the arrest) and Bep Voskuijl worked as secretaries. They, along with Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleimann would assist the people in hiding, bringing in food, entertainment and news from the outside world. There was a copy of Cinema & Theater on display – Anne Frank loved the movies and Victor Kugler would regularly bring her this magazine to catch up on what was happening in the dramatic arts.

My heart missed a beat when we turned a corner and saw the bookcase. There it stood, half-open, waiting for us to come inside. Slowly we climbed up the steps – steeper than I imagined, it made me think about how the helpers managed to bring food to the people in hiding everyday. The first room we entered was the bedroom of Otto, Edith and Margot Frank. How three people managed to cram themselves into this tiny room every single night was amazing. On the wall, was a Charles Dickens book – Anne would write in her diary about how her father would learn English through reading Dickens. On the wall were lines and numbers, where he would measure his daughters’ heights for two whole years. It would be used as evidence when the Nazis asked how long they had spent hiding when they were finally arrested in 1944.

Tears filled my eyes when we entered the room next door. I had seen photos in the past, seen it in the movies, but it was the first time I had really seen Anne Frank’s bedroom. All over the walls were her beloved pictures of movie stars, that she pasted to make the room look brighter. I could imagine her frustration in having to share this room with the grumpy dentist, Fritz Pfeffer. While there isn’t any furniture in the annexe anymore, it was easy to picture the little table where Anne would write her diary.

Climbing up the stairs, brought us to the kitchen, which also acted as the bedroom for Hermann and Auguste van Pels, another family who went into hiding with the Franks and Pfeffer. Everyday, the eight people would gather into the kitchen for breakfast, lunch, dinner, for games and for entertainment. Despite their differences, I’m sure that coming together, brought the eight people a little bit of comfort. Next to the kitchen was the tiny bedroom belonging to Peter van Pels, the only son of Hermann and Auguste. It was interesting to read in Anne’s diary how she and Peter didn’t get on at first, but gradually began to fall in love.

It was sad to see Peter’s bicycle hanging on the wall, along with a game he received for his sixteenth birthday. One wonders how often Peter wished he could just leave the hiding place and ride off on his bicycle.

Peter’s bedroom also had a ladder that led to the attic. We didn’t use the ladder, but the next part of the tour was up to the attic where he and Anne would often escape to talk. The attic has been converted to a large room talking about what happened after the arrest. Hannah Pick-Goslar, a close friend of Anne’s and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, was on video, talking about meeting Anne during their time imprisoned. She has said that if Anne had known that her father was still alive, maybe she could have had the strength to survive.

There was a large book open, with names of all the people who died in the Holocaust. Right at the top was name: Frank, Anneleise. Reading that reminded me of a book where two teenagers also visited the Anne Frank House.

The book was turned to the page with Anne Frank’s name, but what got me about it was the fact that right beneath her name, there were four Aron Franks. Four. Four Aron Franks without museums, without historical markers and without anyone to mourn them.

John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

Anne Frank’s story was only one that came out of the Holocaust. She was just one of the six millions Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. Although she is probably one of the most well-known victims, it is important to remember those whose names that we do not know.

The final part of the tour brought us to the famous diary itself. Protected in a glass case, we saw Anne’s precious diary, opened to a page that showed a photo of Otto Frank. Nobody will really know the heartbreak that he endured after he learned that his wife and daughters were dead, but how he found the strength to bring Anne’s diary to worldwide attention. All across the room, copies of Anne’s diary were displayed in multiple languages, showing that her story has been shown all over the world.

I was numb when we left the Anne Frank house. I thought I knew it all about Anne Frank, but visiting the place where she spent two years hiding away from the Nazis, made me realise that there was a lot more to learn. To be honest, nobody really understands the story of Anne Frank until they themselves, climb up the stairs that were hidden behind a bookcase.

What It Means To Write

Life Experiences, stories
Diaries and Journals that were kept between 2009 and 2016 (Credit: Eidhne Gallagher)

Everybody receives their calling in life. It doesn’t matter if they receive their calling when their eight months or eighteen years old, one day, they will receive their calling of what to do with their life. For myself, it was a little bit different.

I received my calling when I was seven, but I didn’t realise it at the time. It started when I found an old accounts book, and started writing a random story. To this day, I still don’t know what inspired the story: it was a fantasy of a young girl sent on a quest to save her hypnotized friends from an evil wizard. Maybe it was because I was a big Harry Potter fan at the time, I don’t know.

On my thirteenth birthday, I began a diary. At the time, I was copying the famous diarist, Anne Frank. My initial plan was to start writing at thirteen, finish at fifteen and see how I’d changed. Instead, I continued my diary when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, all the way through into my twenties. My diary became my escape through the ups and downs of school, university and family. It also helped me look back on happy and sad memories throughout my life.

Even back then, I didn’t just confine myself to my diary. Throughout my teenage years, I wrote my own poems (abysmal ones, I will admit) and started stories. Started stories – I never managed to finish one! As I grew older, the urge to actually finish a story became stronger. It was only then, that I realised what my true calling really was: to be a writer.

Paper Has More Patience Than People.

Anne Frank, 20 June 1942

To write means to express yourself. I found it a lot easier to express how I felt to a piece of paper, rather than a real life person. I found myself being able to let out my emotions on paper, channel my real life problems and experiences and turn them into stories and poems. Particularly during the coronavirus lockdowns, I had time to fill notebook after notebook with my ideas.

Now, I have actually finished not one but two story drafts. I’m not saying that they are ready for publication yet, but one day I hope they will.

What it means to write to me, means being able to change emotions into stories that people will enjoy. Maybe one day, I’ll see my name on the cover of a book on sale in the shops.