Pen 2 Paper

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In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Dixi Patterson from the Pen2Paper writers group reflects on the groups development, its accomplishments over the past ten years in Donegal and the power of the written word.



In 2010, a writers’ group was established by Karin White with funding from the Peace III programme.  For the first year, journalist Julie Costello was the group’s inspiring facilitator; then, because we had shared so many memories, both happy and sad, and formed lasting friendships through sharing our written pieces – prose, poetry, free verse and song – a core group decided to stay together for regular meetings, and so Pen2Paper – P2P – was born.


Writing, by its very nature, can be a lonely experience, and the aim of P2P is to provide an environment which encourages all its members to develop writing skills and confidence and to share their work in a supportive atmosphere, with positive feedback.


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P2P projects have included readings from – and singing the lyrics of – our work at North West Words public events in Letterkenny.  A major project was a cross-border venture involving residential weekends and workshops in Derry and Letterkenny with ‘Here We Go!’ Theatre Company.


Since we were free to design our own joint project, we took into account the prevailing resurgence of interest in real-life stories of people – not of celebrities or fashion icons, but of ‘ordinary’ folk like ourselves.  This was accompanied by a universal lament that we have not been more careful in recording for posterity the fascinating stories of those who went before us. So, we decided to write & record on DVD stories of each of our childhoods, as we grew up in different parts of Ireland, north and south, rural and urban.  The result was ‘Stories of Yesteryear’, a fascinating social history of part of the 20th century in Ireland.


As a group, we try to use our talents not only to benefit each other, but also the wider community. Over the years, we have contributed to many charities, including the Simon Community, Donegal Town Solas and Cancer Bus, St. Thomas Special Needs Fund, Ride for Change, Brainwave, Hand on Heart, Sassy, the Warrington Youth Club, Vincent de Paul Society, the Chernobyl Appeal and the Donegal Railway Project.


A New Day DawnThen, in the summer of 2018, after months of hard work and selection, P2P launched our first anthology ‘A New Day Dawns’, named after the title of a poem by one of our founder members, Cathy Anderson.  This was a compilation of members’ prose, poetry, free verse, song lyrics and art work, and was dedicated to two of our much-loved members, former postmistress Peggy Hegarty of Donegal Town and film-maker Susan Underwood of Inver, who both sadly passed away before publication.


Julie Costello returned to be the editor of what was envisaged as a local community magazine and we originally pledged to give any small profit to our three chosen charities: the Donegal branches of RNLI, the Alzheimer’s Society, and Irish Guide Dogs for the blind and Assistance Dogs for children with autism.

In the event, we found overwhelming support from the public, shops, hotels and businesses, local councillors and our own families! On the opening day of the 2018 Patrick McGill Summer School in the Highlands Hotel in Glenties, the book was launched before a packed audience by Lochlann McGill, historian, author and past President of the Donegal Historical Society.

Further launches, all supported by generous raffle donations, were held on the Donegal Water Bus and in the Dawros Bay Hotel, Rosbeg.  Individuals, shops, cafés and Glenties Library took books to sell for us, and by November our profits had reached an amazing €8,400, which we were able to divide equally and present to our three local charities.

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Presentation of €2500 to Jennifer for Guide Dogs for the Blind and €2500 to Donegal Alzheimers Association

In the Irish Times on the day after the first launch, Anne Hailes devoted her column to the “eclectic debut” of P2P, describing ‘A New Day Dawns’ as “…an intriguing and varied anthology illustrating how writing groups can reveal hidden talents.”


P2P meets fortnightly in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the Donegal Railway Centre, where evenings include writing on a given prompt or image, sharing our writing (not compulsory!) with the group, feedback, a cup of tea or coffee and, inevitably, a lot of laughter!

Three of the founders of P2P still attend regularly and members come from far and wide: Donegal Town, Clar, Stranorlar, Convoy, Drumkeen, Rossnowlagh, Drumduff, Inver, Portnoo and Rosbeg.  From time to time, aided by ETB grants, we invite professional writers to lead and inspire the group.

pen to paper meetings


We each bring a couple of euros to cover rent and add to our ‘kitty’, which is then spent on outings or party evenings. Last year, these comprised a trip to Glencolmcille for a stage production of John B. Keane’s ‘The Field’ and a day’s outing to the exhibition at Seamus Heaney’s Homeplace in Bellaghy, Co. Derry, which included poetry readings by poets Noel Connor and Gerald Dawe and a special screening of Noel’s film ‘The Bovedy Illuminations’, and we ended the year with a Christmas party in the Manhatten Restaurant, Donegal Town.

Some copies of ‘A New Day Dawns’ are still available and will be in local outlets next month.


Further information may be found on our Facebook page:

Pen2PaperWriters’ Group



NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Mighty Women

Mighty Women


“The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are” Maya Angelou


On 1st February NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network held the county’s  first Herstory event in support of a  national women’s storytelling movement to tell the stories of women past and present. The event  brought women together to share stories through a creative process and created a space to reflect on the importance of ensuring women’s everyday lives, contributions and stories are both told and included in our history.


As part of this day Julie Griffiths an Artist and facilitator from Donegal Changemakers a development education project lead a unique workshop entitled ‘Mighty Women’ commemorative plates a creative way of talking about and celebrating the women who have influenced and enrich our everyday lives.


We are delighted the Commemorative Plates created by the woman on the day will now been on display in Donegal Town, giving others the opportunity to see these unique piece and read about the women who influenced their creation. These unique plates will be on display in Simple Simon, Donegal Town from Thursday 5th March in celebration of International Women’s Day.


We would like take this opportunity to thank all the woman who participated in this event, the  stories their shared are inspiring and highlight why it’s so important women’s lives and voices are both valued and heard. And to Julie Griffiths and Simple Simon for organising and facilitating the display of these unique plates. We invite the community to stop by and see them 🙂


Our Canine Friends

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In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature local dog trainer and self-described dog lover Jetta discusses how our canine friends learn and tips to ensure they have a happy life


I got my first dog from DSPCA in April 2004, and when the second one joined the family in January 2005, I was hooked on dogs. So when I got the chance to work with dogs in April 2005, I jumped in feet first. I started in boarding kennels and while there I got into my studies in dog behaviour. To expand my knowledge and get more experience with dogs I did a grooming course in 2008.

Jetta works with several dog charities to ensure that dogs who need help get the care and attention that they need. She also supports the Cool to be Kind campaign and is owned by two marvellous “mutts” who keep her life lively and interesting!



Dogs learn in two ways; by association (classical) i.e. emotional response and by consequence (operant) i.e. by doing.


Let’s look at learning by association from a human point of view:

We humans learn by association, too. For example, when we meet someone for the first time we come away with an association—either positive, negative, or neutral. If we really enjoyed our interaction with the person, we are likely to be happy to see them again. If we found them to be difficult or argumentative and then we see them again, we might get that little pit of dread in our belly—we have formed a negative association with that person.


And how about the dogs then?

Dogs experience the world this way, too, only they rely on this learning far more than we do. They are constantly forming associations—safe, dangerous, neutral or good for me, bad for me, neutral. These associations inform the decisions dogs make and the reactions they have to various situations and stimuli.


Here is a dog comparison:

A common example of associative learning in dogs is their reaction to the site of a leash. Dogs love leashes! Pull out a leash and the average dog will jump of joy. This is because dogs have come to learn that leashes predict walks, and walks are fun so we love leashes. In other words, dogs associate leashes with fun walks.

The amazing thing is that we can manipulate dogs’ associations to things. For example, most dogs would find a chair to be of no consequence to them; they would form a neutral association to it. But we could teach a dog to LOVE this object.

We could place a screen between the dog and the object. Every time we lift the screen the dog gets treats until the screen goes back down. Pretty soon the dog figures out that the presence of the object is predicting the arrival of the treats and you have a dog that loves the chair.

We could also reverse this association; we could teach the dog to hate or fear the chair we mentioned earlier. So instead of giving treats every time we lift the screen from in front of the chair, we punish the dog by giving a leash jerk, shouting or in other way punishing the dog. What do you think is the association to the chair now? Yup, quite quickly the dog will learn to dislike / hate and even fear the chair…


The implications of this are enormous. We have to recognise that what we do influences the associations the dog is making while in our presence. Here’s an important example: Say we are walking a dog and he has a reaction to seeing another dog that we don’t like. It could be just that he barks in excitement, for example, but we don’t like it. We shout, “No!” and give him a leash correction.


This happens each time we see a dog. Pretty soon our dog’s reaction to other dogs is terrible—he barks and growls and lunges and snaps because we have built a negative association: dogs equal pain. We have taught the dog to dislike or fear other dogs. We actually have the potential to take a dog who either likes others or doesn’t yet know how he feels about them and make him fear aggressive, aggressive, or fearful around other dogs. This is the main drawback to using punishment —it has a lot of side effects due to learning by association or emotion. And not to forget that one of the negative associations is with the punisher, which can affect the bond between person and dog.


What might we do instead if a dog is having a reaction to another dog? Say that every time the dog we are walking sees another dog it starts growling and lunging? Our dog has a negative association with other dogs and we have to reverse it. Treats are a good way to do this. But what if our dog is so upset that he won’t take the treats? If we are  afraid of spiders and one is put right in front of our faces, or we are shut in a room with loads of spiders, it’s going to be hard for us to listen to any instructions to sit down and stop screaming. But if the spider is held 10 meters away, and only brought in for short periods of time, and maybe we are being distracted by some conversation or chocolate, things are going to go better for us; we’ll be able to hear when asked to take a seat and compose ourselves. We need to do the same things for dogs who are afraid of something or upset by it—we need to desensitise using the Three D’s: distance, duration, and distraction. We move the dog farther away from the upsetting object, try to keep the situation brief, and distract with our cheerful voices and treats. Remember, we’re not rewarding the dog for his ugly display because he is too upset to control his behaviour. We are trying to affect his emotional state so that we can then ask for different behaviour.



educationAnd then there is the way that dogs learn by consequence. And to start of the human example:

We can tell a school-age child that we will take him out for an ice cream when we see him next week to celebrate his good report card. When he eats the ice cream, he will understand that he is being rewarded for grades he got a week ago, which he got because of work he did over the course of a period of months.

A dog could never understand this—it’s way beyond their ability to connect events over time like this. Dogs learn by consequence like we do, but for dogs the consequence has to be immediate; it must occur right on the heels of the action that caused it.


For example, say we lure a dog into a sit with our hand. Then we rummage around for the treat, trying to figure out where we put it. By the time we deliver the treat five seconds later, the impact is lost; the dog may not realise it got rewarded for sitting. In the five seconds between the sit and the treat, the dog sneezed, sniffed the ground, and looked left. All of a sudden there was a treat. As far as he’s concerned, he got it for looking left. We’ll eventually teach that dog to sit, but it’ll take a while. Or, we might end up with a dog who sits and looks left as a matter of course.


This is why we use a marker word “YES” (or clicker if you so wish) —this allows us to tell the dog the precise moment he won the treat. Once we’ve used the marker word we buy ourselves a few seconds to get the treat out of our pocket because the dog knows what it’s getting the treat for. The word YES is a reward marker—it marks the moment the reward was won. To teach the dog to know that the YES means a treat is coming we use learning by association—we pair the YES with treats. Every time the dog hears YES he gets a treat. Pretty soon the dog understands that YES means treat, that YES predicts a treat. So even when we’re working with learning by consequence associations are constantly being made.


There are two main concepts to take from these ideas:

  • One, that dogs learn in two ways—by association/emotion and by consequence/doing.

  • And two, that because of these two ways of learning, dogs see the world in two ways: What’s safe/good for me and what’s dangerous/bad, and what works and what doesn’t.

The safe/dangerous outlook on life comes from learning by association or emotional response. When a dog is punished for peeing on the carpet in front of us, they don’t learn inside/outside—they learn that it’s not safe to pee in front of us, but it is safe to pee when we’re not there.


The what works/ what doesn’t work outlook on life is from learning by consequence or by doing. A dog tries staring at the refrigerator. After a while he gives up and doesn’t bother trying again because staring at the fridge doesn’t seem to work; it never opens. Dogs also might try staring at their people at the dinner table. Every once in a while, someone gives in and gives them a bite. Staring at people while they eat works, so dogs continue to do it.


The important point here is that dogs world is safe/dangerous and works/doesn’t work, NOT right/ wrong. Dogs do not have the capacity for those abstract thoughts. Dogs don’t do things we don’t like in order to get back at us or be stubborn or naughty. This is a myth. Dogs just do what’s safe and what works.


That’s all. If a dog barks at us to throw the ball and we throw it, rest assured they’ll do that again. If we ignore the barking they’ll eventually give up and try something else. They’re not trying to be obnoxious; they’re just doing what works. If we ask a dog to sit and it doesn’t sit it’s not being stubborn, we just haven’t trained him well enough yet. So we have to be patient with them and be careful what we pay attention to and what we ignore, and the ways in which we do so.


Jetta at Make Your Dog Smile offers in home dog training especially tailored for your family and dog. So whether your dog needs general manners training or something more specific the personalised training consultations are designed to meet your and your dog’s requirements.

Dog training classes are also offered for more information check


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

HerStory Event



NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network invites you to join us on Saturday 1st February 10.30am-3.15pm in the St. Patrick’s centre, Donegal Town for our Donegal Women’s ‘HerStory’ event. This event is a creative day to honour the women who inspire us and celebrate St.Brigid’s Day Ireland’s triple goddess and matron Saint.

During the day we will be joined by the Carolyn Farrar a journalist and writer who will be leading a creative writing session to celebrate women’s lives and those who inspire us. In the afternoon we will be joined by Julie Griffiths an Artist and facilitator from Donegal Changemakers who will lead a unique workshop entitled ‘Commemorative Plates’ a creative way of talking about and celebrating the women who have influenced and enrich our everyday lives.


The Donegal HerStory is being held in support of the national Herstory Irish women’s storytelling movement. A unique project that tells the life stories of historic, mythic and modern women that have not been told. The movements mission is to give the public authentic female role models and a game-changing egalitarian education programme, inspiring countries around the world to start their own Herstory movements. To find out more please visit



The Donegal HerStory event  is a day for women in to come together meet other women and share stories through a creative process, have chats and a good few laughs throughout the day. While also creating the space to reflect on the importance of ensuring women’s everyday lives, contributions and stories are both told and included in our history.

The event attendance fee is €8 with a light lunch provided, spaces are limited, so if you would like to secure your place, please fill in our online form here.