10 things I’ve learned about parenting this month


10 things

1. Brushing a two year old’s teeth takes a lot longer when they insist on you also brushing the teeth of their three imaginary friends.

2. I was delighted to hear our two year old son was recently “being a comedian” in creche. I like to think he’s inherited my sense of humour.

3. I recently had my hair brushed by our two year old son. Apparently he thinks that the look below is “really good”.

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4. Our son has decided that he no longer likes vegetarian haggis

5. …however, my Scottish dad pride has been restored by his love of baking shortbread biscuits (see below).

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6. Our son ate several chilli and tomato oatcakes yesterday. I’m hoping this means he’s on his way to becoming a fan of curry (…a topic I’ve discussed here before).

7. Our two year old son still can’t quite pronounce the names of some local villages, especially the one whose train station is pictured below.

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8. According to a colleague, the arrival of a second child is like the transition from walking a dog to owning a zoo.

9. Our son has decided he’s friends with 25 of the letters of the alphabet. He doesn’t know Y.

10. Even if a toddler looks tired and sounds tired, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re tired: “I’m not tired, it’s just a yawn”.


What have you learned about parenting recently? What do you remember about being the parent of a toddler? Please feel free to share your views on this post in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ page on Facebook

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Our son doesn’t like haggis any more


no more haggisTwo years ago, I asked an important question on this blog: will our son like haggis? Haggis is traditionally eaten on 25th January as part of Burns Night to celebrate the life and work of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. Rather than serving up the traditional version of the dish that is composed of sheep’s innards cooked in a sheep’s stomach, I fed him a homemade vegetarian version that he enthusiastically (…and messily) consumed.

This year, we again ate vegetarian haggis to mark Burns Night but our son (who’ll be three in a few months’ time) wasn’t interested. I’d like to think that it was because we offered him a shop-produced form of vegetarian haggis rather than a homemade version, but I fear that that this may not be the case. Over the last year, our son has become a bit more fussy about what he eats. He still enjoys going out to a local tapas restaurant and sampling lots of different fruit, vegetables and cheeses but it can be a different story at home.

Last summer, I thought that his love of all sorts of different fresh fruit and vegetables was set to continue when he insisted on holding some broccoli while we went round the supermarket rather than putting it in the trolley (what folks here in the UK call a ‘shopping cart’). Despite the fact that he nibbled on the broccoli while we went round the store, he wasn’t interested in eating in at home once we’d cooked it.

If I took things to extremes, I could take our son’s refusal to eat haggis as a rejection of his Scottish roots. However, that would be going a bit too far. It’s inevitable that our son is going to have a different relationship with Scotland to me. I was born in Scotland and lived there until the age of 18, whereas he was born here in Wales.

By virtue of my wife being from England and my grandparents from different parts of Ireland, our son would technically be eligible to represent five different countries at sports such as football: Wales, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I’d only be eligible to represent Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at football, but having lived in Wales since 2007 would seem to – theoretically – make me eligible to represent Wales at rugby. They’re unlikely to call on my services as the Welsh rugby team is pretty decent at the moment, but things might have been different in the 1980s despite the fact that I have played very little rugby.

Our son may no longer have the same interest in vegetarian haggis as he once had, but I’m pleased to report that he does like shortbread biscuits. Rather than just eating this Scottish delicacy, a few months ago he actually helped me to make some of these. As he grows up, it’s fun finding new things to bond over as he asks ever more questions about the world around him.


What did you think of this blog post? What traditions and foods do you like to eat or cook with your friends and family? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ page on Facebook.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it.

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Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop


Being a Scottish Dad


Being a Scottish Dad

On 18th September 2014, could be an historic day for Scotland as the country’s inhabitants are today voting in a referendum that could result in Scotland becoming independent from the United Kingdom. As a Scot who now lives in Wales, I’ve been asked about how this vote will affect by relationship with the country in which I was born and brought up. Indeed, I’ve been interviewed about this matter in Welsh on Radio Cymru and on television channel S4C.

Ultimately, I don’t think that the result of the referendum will have a major impact on how I see Scotland. It will always be the country where I was born and brought up and I am sure that I’ll always enjoy returning there. As I have lived outside of Scotland since 1998 and got married and become a dad in Wales, our son is likely to have a very different relationship with Scotland to the one I have. To get a flavour of what Scotland means to me as a parent, here are some blog posts that I have written about being from Scotland and sharing Scottish culture with our son:

First family trip to Scotland This summer, we went to Scotland as a family for the first time. In this post, I explain what it was liked visiting places that had been part of my own childhood.

Will our son like haggis? Read this post to find out about vegetarian haggis and what it means to me as a Scot living outside of Wales and what it symbolizes.

A Scottish dad’s thoughts about St. Andrew’s Day I wrote this post to coincide with St. Andrew’s Day (30th November) last year and discuss my own relationship with haggis.

Seamus Heaney, haggis and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau Shortly after the death of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, I wrote this post in which I discussed having Irish roots, growing up

Have you ever been to Scotland? What sorts of traditions from your childhood do you try to share with your kids? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it.

I’ve added this post to the following parenting blog link-ups:

First family trip to Scotland


First family trip to Scotland

We visited my native Scotland earlier this summer on our first trip with our then 15 month old son. Just as I had wondered how he would react to his first taste of vegetarian haggis back in January, I was eager to see how he’d respond to visiting the land where I grew up. In fact, he started letting out some little happy noises just after we told him that we’d crossed the border into Scotland.

Our son may well have a very different relation to Scotland to the one that I had. I was born in Scotland and lived there until I left to study at Leeds University when I was eighteen. Our son was born here in Wales last year and this may mean that his relationship to Scotland ends up being similar to my own connection with Ireland, the land where both my parents were born. By virtue of my wife being from England, our son would be eligible to play football for Wales, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

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I had been slightly worried about our son making a bit of a mess at my parents’ house as it is a lot tidier and neater than our own house, in part due to the less frequent presence of food-throwing toddlers. He did have a go at re-arranging most of the contents of the spice shelf in one of the kitchen cupboards and ‘re-organizing’ a bookshelf (see 16 thoughts from my 16th month as a parent and Like father, like son), but thankfully my parents didn’t seem to mind. Indeed, he showed quite a commitment to tidiness by spending quite a bit of time playing with a mop as well as a dustpan and brush.

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It was great fun going on a family trips to places that I’d been to regularly as a child, even when it was only the local play park. I particularly enjoyed our trip to Craigtoun Country Park near St. Andrews, somewhere that had been a real favourite of mine when I was primary school age. I’d been sad to see that it was threatened with closure within the last few years, but thankfully it was saved by a community group that largely took over the running of it.

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The park’s attractions include a boating lake, crazy golf, trampolines, a play park, train rides and lots of space for having picnics and running around. I had worried that it would not live up to my expectations given how much I’d enjoyed it as a child but found that the play park had grown a lot bigger and that the track for the train ride was much longer than it had been. The train rides had been one of my favourite parts of the park as a kid and apparently I once insisted on going on something like eight or nine train rides in a row. Perhaps for this reason, the park now has a different ticketing system which involves buying tickets for a set number of rides (…although there is an unlimited day pass option).

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Our on wasn’t all that bothered about the train ride and almost nodded off to sleep during the circuit of the park. However, he did seem to really enjoy riding on some tricycles in an area where there was a perhaps misplaced sign telling visitors ‘no backflips or somersaults to be attempted’ and managed to restrain his gymnastic inclinations. Back home at my parents’ house, there were plenty of other things to enjoy (…such as being able to relax and being cooked for!). It was also great to see our son playing with some of my favourite toys from my toddler days. These included a set of plastic stacking cups that my parents have now kept for over thirty years.

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It was also great to go on trips with not just my wife and son, but also my parents. There was something special about three generations of our family going places together. These included Kinshaldy Beach, which is on the coast of North East Fife. Although it was a bit blustery, we all managed to have a paddle and build some sandcastles (…as well as take turns trying to prevent our son from eating sand).


As we’ll soon be moving house, our trip to Scotland has been our only real trip away this summer. This trip home involved visiting many familiar places and these places became all the more special again as they took me back to my own childhood and I loved seeing our son enjoy them too. I’m not sure if he’ll remember his first trip to Scotland in years to come, so I might just have to show him this blog post!

Do you remember taking your kid(s) to places that you visited as a child? Did the places live up to expectations and what did your kid(s) think? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it.

Related posts

Seamus Heaney, Haggis and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau

Will our son like haggis?

A Scottish dad’s thoughts about St. Andrew’s Day

Like father, like son

16 thoughts from my 16th month as a parent

I’ve added this post to the following parent blogger link-ups:

11 thoughts from my 11th month as a parent


PicMonkey Collage 11 thoughts

It’s time for my monthly feature about what I’ve learned about parenting this month. This edition is about hail storms, sleep and phone books…

1. Our son experienced a hail storm for the first time recently. He didn’t really like it, but calmed down after 10 minutes of playing peek-a-boo in the back seat of the car before leaving the supermarket car park.

2. I think that are son is getting the idea about sleeping in a bit longer on Sundays. One weekend recently he decided it was time to get up at 5.30am on the Saturday and 6am on the Sunday. Think we may need to keep working on this one 🙂

3. Our son has recently started crawling. As this picture of him at one week old imitating Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt demonstrates, he’s been keen to start moving for  a while!

Our son the sprinter

4. I think that my approach to grammar may soon need to be extended to not letting our son wear a baby grow on which an apostrophe has worn off.

5. A company that I criticized a while ago for not focusing on dads within their parenting materials recently contacted me about potentially doing a review of a safety gate that is normally used to stop small kids from going down stairs. As it happens, we live in a bungalow.

6. One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about being a dad recently has been being able to make our son laugh. Often, it doesn’t take much. Some people would say that it’s good that the bar isn’t too high given some of the dad jokes that I mentioned in a recent blog post on here.

7. As I’m from Scotland, I’m pleased that our son enjoys eating porridge and vegetarian haggis. His recent food throwing capabilities suggest that it may soon be time for him to start training for the traditional Highland Games pursuit of caber tossing. I think I’ll make him watch the video below of the current world champion so as he knows what to do.

8. As I’ve just said, being a Scottish dad is one of the reasons that I’m delighted to see that our son enjoys eating porridge. I just wish he’d stop trying to eat it with his hands and let mummy and daddy feed it to him on a spoon. Breakfast time can get quite messy, especially when he seems intent on trying to use the porridge as if it were some sort of exfoliating facial scrub.

9. Our son recently tried to brush his teeth himself (all four of them!) during a bath. He has recently started to chew the wrong end of the toothbrush so it may well be that he’ll end up deciding against a career in dentistry.

10. Our son currently enjoys playing with the phone book (see below). I just hope that we won’t have to read to him as a bed time story in the near future. His other books are all so much more interesting.

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11. In addition to crawling all over the place, our son has recently had his first go at standing up on his. A new phase of parenthood is about to begin!

What do you think of this post and what do you remember from your first year as a parent? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it.

Similar posts

Being a dad – celebrating the little things

6 things I’ve learned in 6 months as a parent

7 thoughts from my 7th month as a parent

8 thoughts from my 8th month as a parent

9 thoughts from my 9th month as a parent

10 thoughts from my 10th month as a parent

In week 1 of the MAD blog awards for UK parent bloggers, I’ve been nominated in the categories Best Baby Blog, Best New Blog and MAD Blog of the year. In each category, only the four blogs with the most votes will make the final shortlist. If you’d like to vote for me, please go to http://www.the-mads.com/vote/ and type in the web address of my blog (https://dadsthewayilikeit.wordpress.com/) in the relevant categories. Thank you!


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Will our son like haggis?


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There are plenty of big questions that parents and parents-to-be face. As a Scottish dad, I am tackling one such question this week: will our son like haggis? With Burns Night coming up on 25th January, I thought that it would be a good time to tackle this issue. Burns Night celebrates the birthday of Robert Burns, who is widely considered to have been Scotland’s national poet. A traditional Burns Supper involves recitals of Burns poems and the consumption of haggis, a dish made out of sheep’s innards mixed with vegetables and spices that is traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach.

Being a vegetarian, I’ve never tasted the traditional meat haggis. However, as I have mentioned before on this blog, I am a bit of a fan of vegetarian haggis. I’m so much of a fan of it that this in fact the third post I’ve done in four months in which I’ve talked about vegetarian haggis, as it also made its way into a post I did to mark St. Andrews’ Day back in November. This Saturday will be my first Burns Night as a dad and will also mark another first as I will be attempting to make vegetarian haggis from scratch myself rather than buying the packaged version that is widely available in health food shops in the UK.

Although some friends will be coming round for a Burns Night get together slightly after our nine month old son is likely to have gone to bed, I’m going to make sure that he is able to try to some of it and will be interested to see how he responds. As my wife I are doing baby-led weaning with him, he has already sampled quite a few different foods and he’s got quite into certain fruits and vegetables such as broccoli and blueberries.

Baby led weaning can sometimes get a bit messy...

Baby led weaning can sometimes get a bit messy…

In a lot of ways, Burns Night is something that I mark more because it’s an excuse to invite some friends round and share some tasty food rather than anything else. I’m not some sort of staunch nationalist and indeed almost all of my living relatives are from Ireland rather than Scotland. In fact, I’m such a bad Scotsman that quite a few Burns Nights pass by without even a half-hearted attempt to read any Burns poetry such as the famous Address to a Haggis that is traditionally read before the haggis is cut open.

I know at least two people who have made vegetarian haggis in the past, so I was keen to give it a go this year. After some searching on the internet, I came across quite a few different but fairly similar recipes. These included one from The Guardian newspaper, another by a blogger who is into sustainable farming and a third from a well-known vegetarian restaurant in Edinburgh. Despite the fact that the second of the three recipes was from someone who happens to live little more than an hour away from where I do in North Wales, I’ve decided that I’ll try out the final one from the Edinburgh vegetarian restaurant.

St. Andrews, Scotland

Despite saying earlier that I’m not some sort of staunch nationalist, I have developed some perhaps slightly pedantic nationalist reflexes whilst trying to assemble the ingredients that I’ll need for Burns Night. I decided to get some porridge oats that were definitely made in Scotland (and were not marked ‘produce of more than one country’) and I’m also determined to get some sort of Scottish drink to have with the haggis. However, finding a suitable beverage has been a bit of a challenge as I don’t drink alcohol (ruling out whisky and quite a few different widely available beers).

The obvious Scottish soft drink to purchase would normally be Irn Bru, an orange coloured fizzy drink that is sometimes referred to as ‘Scotland’s other national drink’. However, I do find it a bit too sugary and sickly and apparently some of it is now produced at a factory on the English side of Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve come to the conclusion that Scottish mineral water is going to be the easiest option to go for. I do feel that buying bottled water in a country where we have perfectly drinkable tap water is a bit pointless, so will probably go for some of the sparkling variety (which I quite like mixing with fruit juice).

Scottish shop

Our son hasn’t been to Scotland yet, but we walked past this ‘Scottish Shop’ in Brittany with him during our first family holiday last September.

This search for Scottish products is perhaps a bit silly as the nibbles that I have got for Burns Night include tortilla chips and mini poppadoms. However, I do like mixing things up a bit when it comes to serving the vegetarian haggis. For example, it’s lovely as a pancake filling, with tabbouleh or even as part of vegetarian haggis cannelloni. In the past, I have made vegetarian haggis burgers and also eaten left over vegetarian haggis in pitta bread with tzatsiki. I also fancy trying out both aubergine and vegetarian haggis towers and vegetarian haggis pakoras.

My son, and everyone else who comes round later this week, will be served the more traditional haggis with mashed potato. Our son has eaten mashed potato before and seemed to like it, so he’s already half way to liking the dish that I’m going to be cooking. It has crossed my mind that our son might end up not liking vegetarian haggis. I won’t be all that bothered if this happens as I just want to share a dish that I like with him, just as I love the idea of us all sitting down as a family to have a vegetable curry together. I’m not a stickler for tradition and think that consuming haggis in a vegetarian and perhaps novel way is an example of creating your own traditions. Anyway, our son’s day often begins with a bowl of porridge for breakfast so he’s already getting his fare share of traditional Scottish food!

MAJOR NEWS UPDATE (25/01/2014): our son does like haggis!!!

What did you think of this blog post? What traditions and foods do you like sharing with your friends and family? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it.



A Scottish dad’s thoughts about St. Andrew’s Day



The town of St. Andrews

November 30th is St. Andrew’s Day, so this week’s blog post is about Scotland and the possibility that it may become independent following a referendum that is taking place next year. I was initially thinking of discussing traditional events that I remember from the St. Andrew’s Days that I spent in Scotland. However, that would have resulted in quite a short post indeed. St. Andrew’s Day is really nothing like St. Patrick’s Day in national or international terms.

I’m glad to see that websites such as www.scotland.org have been talking up St. Andrew’s Day, but I find it hard to identity with the idea that ‘there will be parties galore in Scotland, events around the world’. I actually went to school in a town called St. Andrews and was rarely aware of special events taking place to mark the day of our country’s patron saint.

I remember hearing a few years ago about an attempt to boost the profile of Scotland in the United States by focusing on events that were to take place on Tartan Day, which I recently learned is April 6th. my initial reaction as that this seemed a bit odd as it involved ignoring our patron saint’s day and also Burns’ Night (25 January, a day that celebrates our national poet Robert Burns). However, November and January are perhaps not the best times of year to have major outdoor celebrations as the weather can be somewhat ‘dreich’, to use a Scottish word. Dreich, meaning cold, gloomy and wet, was recently voted Scotland’s favourite word in the Scots language. I’m not quite sure what that says about the national outlook!


Deep fried Mars bars: one of Scotland’s more recent culinary traditions.

Although St. Andrew’s Day is often in many ways a bit of a non-event in comparison with St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland (and anywhere in the world that sells Guinness), or even St. David’s Day in Wales, I do quite like the fact that Burns’ Night constitutes a day when Scotland celebrates its national poet. As a vegetarian who has never eaten the traditional haggis, I perhaps have a somewhat different approach to its traditions. However, as I have mentioned in a previous post, the invention of vegetarian haggis has provided me with a way of celebrating Scottishness that is more suited to my culinary preferences and beliefs.

When I was at primary school, every class had a Burns recitation competition during January where everyone would have to recite (or simply read) a given Burns poem. In my second year of primary school, I came third out of the boys in my class and then it was downhill from there. Burns’ poetry, written in Scots, is written in a dialect that it many ways foreign to me as my parents were born in Belfast and Dublin rather than places such as Glasgow or Edinburgh and moved to Scotland as adults.

Despite that, Scotland remains the country where I grew up and a place for which I retain a great sense of fondness despite having lived in England, France or Wales since 1998. This means that I won’t be able to vote in the referendum next year that could lead to Scotland becoming independent. Although I’ll be following the result closely, I don’t really have an issue with the fact that I won’t be able to vote. I feel that it’s people currently living in Scotland who should have the final say on its future. I’ve lived in Wales for almost six and a half years now and was able to vote in a referendum about extending some of the powers that have been granted to the Welsh Assembly since devolution.


Scotland is generally seen as quite a welcoming country but there have been some unconfirmed reports of toads pushing cyclists off their bikes in the Edinburgh area.

There are many questions about what an independent Scotland would involve, and a recent BBC News article discussed several of them. Will Scotland be able to keep sterling as its currency if it becomes independent? How easy will it for Scotland to join the EU as an independent nation? If Scotland joins the EU, will it be pressured into adopting the Euro as a condition of entry?

Some aspects of discussions about money and an independent Scotland amuse me, especially as it seems that some people in the rest of the United Kingdom appear to think that Scotland already has its own separate currency. Most sterling bank notes are produced in England but there are also sterling banknotes that are produced in Scotland and Northern Ireland. They are all legal tender and should be accepted anywhere in the UK, but attempting to pay for something in England with Scottish banknotes can sometimes appear about as welcome as proposing to pay for an expensive car with monopoly money or old milk bottle tops.

There are also questions being asked about Scotland’s ability to stand on its own two feet in economic terms as well as issues that involve both employment and diplomacy. What will happen to revenue from oil rigs in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland? If Scotland becomes independent, will the UK government still want to (or be able to) keep nuclear submarines at Scottish bases? I also heard a rumour that bee keepers who had received grants from the London-based government would have to return some of their equipment if Scotland were to become independent. In a protest in partly inspired by the film Braveheart, some of them recently got together to chant ‘they can take our hives but they’ll never take our freedom’ (OK, I admit that I made up this bit about the bee keepers just so I could work in a one-liner…).

West Sands, the beach in St. Andrews where the opening sequence of the film Chariots of Fife was filmed.

West Sands, the beach in St. Andrews where the opening sequence of the film Chariots of Fife was filmed.

The possibility of Scotland becoming independent brings with it the chance that there will be such a thing as Scottish passports in the near future. On some levels, this appeals to me as many people in the UK define themselves as being from Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish but simply have a UK passport that does not reflect this sense of identity.

However, the fact that I don’t see an administrative document as necessarily providing a necessarily true or full reflection of my own sense of national identity or cultural belonging also means that I probably wouldn’t rush out to get a Scottish passport if they became available. I’m of Irish ancestry thanks to relatives from both the North and the Republic, was born and brought up in Scotland, married to a woman from England and live in Wales with our Welsh-born son.

Whether or not Scotland becomes independent, it will remain the place where I was born and a land to which I will feel a sense of attachment. Whether or not it becomes an independent country, it may well feel quite foreign to our son despite the fact that he is already enthusiastically eating porridge aged seven months old. No matter what happens in next year’s referendum, I look forward to sharing some of Scotland’s culture and traditions with him as he grows up. By the time Burns Night comes round on January 25th, I reckon that he should be old enough to have his first taste of vegetarian haggis.


What did you think of this post? What are the traditions that you most enjoy celebrating? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it! Pin for this post: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/428827195740174709/

I’ve linked this blog post up with the ‘Something for the Weekend’ parent bloggers link-up hosted by The Voice of Sarah Miles and Diary of the Dad as well as the ‘Post Comment Love’ (#PoCoLo) link-up hosted by Verily Victoria Vocalises.

Seamus Heaney, Haggis and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau


Last week saw the passing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, a man whose works were celebrated by many and led to him being awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature. It is hard to know what – if anything – it is possible to say in order to do justice to a man of such creative genius and eloquence. I don’t have the same insight and knowledge of many of those who have paid at times moving tributes to Heaney since his death last Friday, but have decided nevertheless to focus on what his poems meant to me within the context of exploring my own sense of cultural and national identity.

Heaney was from County Derry in Northern Ireland, although moved to Dublin in the early 1970s. My dad followed a similar trajectory, growing up in Armagh before moving to Dublin. Dublin is the city from which my mum originates and where my parents met. All this means that I have a connection with Ireland – both the North and the Republic – despite never having really lived there. Places like Armagh, Dublin and Westmeath are locations that I associate with fond memories of childhood holidays and I also enjoyed staying in Dublin during the summers of 2000 and 2001 when I did voluntary work for the Irish Section of Amnesty International.

The first time that I really engaged with the poetry of Seamus Heaney was during the 1996-7 school year when I was doing a school assignment for English known as an RPR (Review of Personal Reading). I had decided to focus on a selection of poems by Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats. Although I perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, I was probably somehow trying to connect (or re-connnect) with my roots .


Edinburgh, Scotland

Growing up, I’d always thought of myself as Scottish as Scotland was where I was born and where I’d always lived (apart from a year in San Jose, California in 1982-3). However, I did start to think in my teens about how things might have been different if my parents had not left Belfast in the early 1970s. This wasn’t something tinged with any sort of regret on my part but more a sense of wonder.

On occasion, I also became aware that others in Scotland didn’t see me as being Scottish (…and also that some people in Ireland definitely saw me as being Scottish!). When I was applying to go to university, the places that appealed to me most were all in England. I didn’t have my heart set on leaving Scotland. I just wanted to experience somewhere new and exciting that was a bit further from home. After noticing that I hadn’t signed up for a talk in school by a visiting speaker about applying to Scottish universities, I remember that a teacher once said to me ‘but you’re not really Scottish anyway’.

I wouldn’t say that I was personally offended but I did think it somewhat odd that the teacher presumed that they knew how I felt about my own nationality or sense of national identity. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what I think of it myself and don’t feel the need to quantify my comparative sense of attachment to Scotland or Ireland (be that the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland or the Republic). I was actually tempted to write something like ‘a bit confused’ when I was asked to describe my sense of national identity in the equality monitoring section of form that I filled in when enrolling on a Welsh course a few years ago.

In reading Heaney (and also Yeats), I was fascinated by their own relationships with their respective Irish homes. One of the reasons that I was drawn to Yeats was sentimentality stemming from the fact that he was from Sligo, the same county in the west of Ireland as my maternal grandmother. In the writings of Heaney, I was particularly interested in the gentle and often beautiful way that he put into words the complexities and tensions that have been part of the history of Ireland over the last century and especially Northern Ireland during his own lifetime. The assignment that I produced was something of which I felt proud due to not just getting a good grade but feeling that I had done something that was meaningful on other levels.

Scotland does of course have its own history of poets and reciting poems by Robert Burns in the weeks leading up to Burns’ Night (25th January) was an annual occurrence in primary school. Eating the traditional haggis, however, was not an annual occurrence on 25th January at home. This owes more to being brought up by vegetarian rather than Irish parents.

For those of you who have not come across haggis before, it is a dish that is traditionally composed of a sheep’s entrails that are wrapped in a sheep’s stomach and cooked in a mixture that also contains oatmeal, spices and onions. Thankfully, a vegetarian version was invented in 1984 to coincide with the launch of the Scottish poetry library.


Lille, France

Whilst living in France from 2002-2004, I would frequently return to Leeds where I was registered for a Masters degree that I was studying by research whilst teaching English at a university in Lille. I would often give a vegetarian haggis to the friends with whom I stayed during my visits back to Leeds by way of a thank you. I also remember returning to Lille with a bag full of vegetarian haggises in January 2003 in preparation for a Burns’ Night get together to which I invited French, Irish and American friends.

For me, this perhaps somewhat unconventional Burns Night was about sharing food as much as sharing culture, an excuse to invite round some friends and socialize rather than perform a traditional ritual. I did, however, look out the Burns poem ‘To a Haggis’ that it is customary to read before eating the beast (…for some say that the haggis is really an animal equipped with two short inside legs and two long outside legs so as it can run round mountains in circles).

As I’ve never felt that I possess the ideal accent for reciting Burns poetry,  much of which is written in Scots dialect, I decided to pass a piece of paper with the poem on it around the room and get everyone to read a few lines. This was both challenging and entertaining, especially as even native speakers of English are likely to struggle to pronounced (or indeed understand) some of the words used by Burns. I did, nevertheless, also print out a ‘Queen’s English’ version of ‘To a Haggis’ as well as a French translation.

When moving to Wales was a possibility rather than a reality, I had already started to explore where I’d be able to purchase vegetarian haggis. When I had travelled from Leeds to one interview, I remember texting my then flatmates a message along the lines of ‘this place is great, I’ve just found a health shop that sells veggie haggis’. One of the responses was ‘you’re not exactly selling it to me’. In the area where I now live, I regularly order sufficient supplies of vegetarian haggis in the weeks preceding Burns’ Night from the local health shop. Indeed, the staff there often ask me in early January if I’m going to be placing another order for vegetarian haggis.

Now that I’m a dad, I’m not sure if our son will show any signs of interest in the poetry of Heaney and Yeats or indeed vegetarian haggis. After all, he may not feel any particular attachment to Ireland or Scotland given that he was born in Wales. As I mentioned in a previous post entitled My first football season as a dad, our son would technically be eligible to play football for Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, just as I remain eligible to represent Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at football and I believe also Wales at rugby and England at cricket. As yet, I have been cruelly denied due to a lack of sporting talent.

North Wales

North Wales

What I think that I have been provided with by the poems of Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats, as well as vegetarian haggis, is something with which I have been able to identify in a positive manner. On one hand, Wales may not be Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (literally, ‘Old Land of My Fathers’, the name of the Welsh national anthem). However, I was recently reading a book about Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau by Sion Jobbins that talked about how the anthem celebrated Wales’ poetry and culture in a positive and inclusive manner. That is something that I think is very important. No matter how my son ultimately perceives his own sense of national identity, I hope that he will find things that help him to identify with where he feels he is from, wherever that may be and whether or not these things are traditional.

What did you think of this article? What is it that you feel defines a sense of home and cultural identity? If you’d like to share your thoughts on this post, or Seamus Heaney, haggis and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in general,  please feel free to do so via the comments section below. If you want to keep up with this blog, there are ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+. Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen.

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