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.


Lori ann said...

Gosh Mandy that was beautiful, you are a brave and loving daughter, Mother, and person.
So many things to talk about here, I am so glad that you had the courage to do all this, I think your Mother does indeed smile down on you with love and pride.
Thank you for sharing such an important part of your life.
xoxoxoxo ♥

p.s. and that bridge would have made me faint i'm sure!

Gin said...

This was beautiful! Thank you so much for your beautiful comments on my blog. They are much appreciated.

Mel said...

(((((( the byrdie )))))))

I can only imagine all those fears getting walked through at once--what an awesome journey. And that the boys got to be a part of it is priceless.

There's something about roots--something I've not quite grasped as mine are scattered and in shattered pieces with no one to bring me closer. I envy that you were able to find that connectedness to your mother and her family. I don't know how that could be anything less than powerful--in so many ways.

Merry ME said...

Oh Mandy,
Good for you. You are brave. What a beautiful story. Scary as it was I'm glad there was no big strong man to take the boys across the bridge. I have a feeling that watching you do that with/for them is something those boys will always remember.

You rock, my friend.

Linda - Gold Coast said...

I was engrossed reading this Mandy and I couldn't read it fast enough. I felt as though I was there as well. My heart was in my mouth when I read about the Bridge, one of my worst fears but happily another one of your many conquests♥ Such a beautiful account of your trip Mandy. Linda xoxo

lakeviewer said...

I read both parts, to make sense of this trip. Yes, you confronted your fears, and your history. You honored your mom's memory too, the part that was guiding your steps toward all the places she lived in, and the places that she left behind.

Your revisiting these things are strenghtening you for new battles and new challenges.

See, blogging does help us reconnect with all our parts, even those we didn't know we had.

Thank you, Mandy. This was beautifully written.

Minnie said...

A lovely conclusion to the tale. Brave of you to take that trip - impressed, too, by your coping with the rope bridge.
Again, so many recent blogging resonances for me - dealing with mother as a person in her own right; father's home town + culture: fascinating to see some more via your optic. Great stuff, Mandy.
Greetings from a (Prod) Dub's daughter.

Angela said...

Mandy, how brave you are! And I also think that returning to our roots is a liberating thing. The thoughts and the lessons come all by themselves when we stand at old graves or see places with our now adult eyes. A very interesting story, and it inspires me to do a post on the past again, too.

Minnie said...

PS Avoca's delightful, isn't it? Favourite cousin lives in Co Wicklow, & it's all gorgeous.

Paula said...

How very wonderfully this journey to your Mom and yourself was. Wish I could give you a hug right in this very moment.

karen said...

What a great story - thanks so much for sharing it with us! It was certainly a journey of note, in so many ways for you... the bridge gives me the horrors just thinking of it!

Zan said...

Your words sucked me right in I could see it all. I was actually making my way over carrick-a-rede rope bridge for the first time just a couple of months ago. Absolutely terrifying!

What a journey you made. Both mentally and yea everything else. Amazing!
Thank you for sharing part two of this journey.

speck of dust said...

What an amazing, adventurous mum! Love the image of bundling two sleepy boys into the car at the start of the journey and them racing ahead of you leading you onto the bridge. Lovely how children can be more vulnerable and more fearless than us. So sad how religion has divided so many families. I also like the contrast between walking on solid ground where your family would have walked then walking in the air with the sea below. It could be a metaphor for being on earth among 'the 10,000 things' and being with spirit which is formless and all around.

Angela Recada said...

What a wonderful story! This was a very special thing you did for yourself and your boys.

I saw where my mother was from in Germany when I was very young, and have never seen where my father is from. I've tried to show our children where both my husband and I are from. I think it helps to understand your parents, especially later in life.


trousers said...

Fantastic stuff. I knew some of this from conversation with you but it's great to see it all written down as a complete - and compelling - narrative.

I like how confronting your fears happens on a number of different levels, as though the rope bridge is a metaphor for the other fears that you were facing.

It also feels, reading this, that you're not just the narrator: you're also the guide.

nitebyrd said...

What a wonderful story, Byrd! You and your boys got to walk where your mother walked and got to hold a previously unknown part of her in your hearts.

Lovely. Thank you for sharing.