Monday, 26 October 2009
Ireland found and fears confronted
At four am I got up and bundled two sleepy boys into sleeping bags into the car. They were 15 and 10 years old. I drove to Holyhead in Wales to catch the hover ferry to Dublin. It was the quickest way across, which I needed as I get horribly sick on ferries.
I'd booked our first might in a bed and breakfast in Dublin and then we'd be on our own. The B&B was in a wonderful Georgian building, the sort Dublin is famous for. We got there in time to unload our bags and go for an explore around the city. Over the Liffey Bridge just taking our time wandering. Had to buy an essential pair of new socks, as the ones I was wearing decided they were not going to stay around my ankles but were going to worm their way to the bottom of my toes! When it was time to eat I did what all good mothers visiting Dublin should do, found a pizza place!!! So appetites were satisfied with successful food for at least two of the party.
The next morning after a huge Irish breakfast of rashers (yes! to be able to use that word in a sentence how good is that!) sausages and white pudding. A very strange version of English black pudding, which are both just slices of ground meal and pigs blood and definitely an acquired taste.... one party happy!
Then leaving the security of Dublin behind and not having any idea of where we were going, and what we would find we set off for Northern Ireland. At that time the military had finally stopped manning the checkpoints on the border between Eire and the North, but the towers and look outs were still there. A grim reminder of far too many years of bloody violence in the name of religion.
We drove in Armagh and then into County Tyrone, heading for the little town of Callodin. Driving down the main street we spotted the Church. We didn't know if it was Protestant or Catholic, so parking the car, the three of us wandered round the Church yard trying to find a notice board that might tell us. This was eventually found, it was the Protestant Church, so no use to us.
Driving down the street we came to the village store. There was no choice but to go in and ask if anyone knew of the family, given that my mother had left it 50 years previously. But her father Patrick had been the station master at the local railway station, so it was worth trying.
The lady behind the counter couldn't have been more helpful, although she didn't know of the family. But she knew someone who might. So she phoned her up, and we were invited round to this old lady's house. This old lady, whose name we never found out, asked us in,put the kettle on,produced cake and squash for the boys and started talking.
She had memories of Patrick when she was a very little girl, and of mum's sister Kathleen, she was the middle child, her brother, also Patrick was 5 years older, and mum, Maureen, had been 10 years younger, but the old lady couldn't remember either of them.
But she did know where the family had lived and where the Catholic Church was, that the family were buried in.She also knew of a branch of the family in the next village.
By this time the shop keeper had phoned back and said that we were welcome to stay with her overnight.
We set off for the house. I knew it was the right house, as on the other side of the road was Mum's lake. The place she'd talked about playing near as a child. Continuing up the road we came to the Catholic church ,a much more humble affair than the Protestant one. Again we started looking around a Churchyard, but this time for grave stones. We found them, Patrick and Mary, mum's parents and her brother Patrick. We also found Kathleen's which made me sad, as Kathleen had been the only member of her family to have anything to do with mum, even though that contact was a card at Christmas, usually accompanied by a prayer card.
I didn't know then, that Dad always sent her a card back with money in as Kathleen had fallen on hard times in Belfast.
We decided to and check out the cousin in the next village. This was actually very intimidating. This village was obviously very pro Catholic and parking my car with it's English number plates was difficult, as we could feel ourselves being watched the whole time we were there. The cousin wasn't in, only her teenage daughter, who in the way of teenagers wasn't hugely interested in us, so we didn't prolong our visit.
Getting back in the car I made the decision, despite the kind invitation to stay in the area that I'd had enough. I was totally overwhelmed with finding all these connections to my darling mum, and I didn't think I wanted to be sociable with a stranger, I was exhausted.
So we left not really sure of where we were going. We decided to head up to the Giant's causeway, and as luck would have it there was a hotel there. It was a wonderful hotel with amazing views of the coast from our room. Although the whole place was stuck in a time warp from the 1970s. But we were so pleased to have found a place, we decided to stay for two nights.
The next day the causeway was explored, the cliff path walked on and a boat trip round the bay had. All of them fantastic and all of them leading up to me doing one of the most frightening things in my life the following day.
The boat trip went near a rope bridge 70 foot up above the sea, it's called Carrick'a'Read rope bridge.It joins the headland with this tiny little island. the bridge is for the fishermen who launch their lobster pots of the far side of it. Of course when the boys saw this bridge they wanted nothing else than to go across it.
How I wished for a strong man to do the deed with them, whilst i could have waited sweetly for the men folk to do their stuff. As there was no tough man, then there was no choice. This bridge was as wide as two planks of wood and it was open to the elements with just a handrail between me and the sea 70'below. Of course the boys positively leapt across. And I stepped on it. I don't mind heights,what terrifies me is my lack of balance. So foot in front of foot, hand by hand, with my eyes firmly on a spot on the other side I crawled across. I was utterly, utterly terrified, but I did it. Which was fantastic, then came the realisation that the only way back was doing it again. I have to admit doing it again was not as scary and I even remember turning my head to take in the view. But I don't think I'll ever need to do that again as long as I live.
The rest of our little break continued to be wonderful, our last night was done in County Wicklow in Eire, so we wouldn't have a horrendous drive to be in time for the ferry. We even ended up in the village that was known to millions of TV viewers at the time as Ballykissangel, where they were actually filming a show in the torrential rain of that day.
Then it was an uneventful journey home. But what I got from that trip has been immeasurable. I confronted my fear on that bridge. I confronted my fear of going into Northern Ireland from the south.I confronted my fear of just going and trusting in the universe to provide.
And more than anything else I find where my mammy came from, I found her childhood and I hope I gave her a measure of peace wherever she is, as I settled something about her life as her English daughter, in the land of her birth.