Come On Ireland!My Irish Dad emigrated to England in 1950. He describes the day before his departure as like ‘a wake.’
At 18 he was the eldest of nine. His Mother was not only losing a son, but her confidant, her helper, and above all the young man who filled the small cramped house with sunshine and laughter. Such was her anguish, she couldn’t even say goodbye; she stayed in bed for a week after he left.
He returned almost a decade later, with a wife and two children. His younger siblings didn’t recognise him, his Mother resented him.
By the time I arrived seven year later (a mistake) our summer visit ‘home’ was a fixed annual event. My sisters and I would stay for the duration of the school holidays. I was a bona-fide city boy and found the transition to rural Irish life difficult, but I look back on those summers with great fondness. What I remember most was the weddings and funerals.
In those summers wherein no weddings were planned, I longed for a funeral. My extended Irish family was huge and populated with elderly widowers, widows, bachelors and spinsters; the chances of one of them popping off were quite high. I knew it was wrong to wish death upon anyone, I felt shameful.
There was no morbidity in my funeral enjoyment, I simply liked the way my Irish family celebrated the life of the deceased in their mourning; the solemnity of the wake, the pomp and the formality of the burial and the beery banter afterwards. It was the sense of a community united that seduced me – you just didn’t get that in the city.
My parents returned to Ireland once we had flown the nest. Over time my visits (regrettably) became less frequent; I was a Londoner, the city was ‘home.’
The Celtic Tiger roared through Ireland and in the midst of it my mother dropped dead.
I returned to a country I didn’t recognise. My Father’s once secluded homestead stood jarringly in the middle of a sprawling housing estate, a busy bypass replaced the dense woods and flowing fields I played in as a kid. I felt I’d lost Ireland as well as my Mother.
I didn’t want to see the corpse – too scared. An uncle, who I barely knew put his hand on my shoulder and with a pragmatic stoicism led me to her. In life my mother never wore make-up, so at first I didn’t recognise her carefully made up face. My uncle spoke, “Now Garry, doesn’t she look fantastic! She’s a fine looking woman, it’s a shame she never made the effort when she was alive,” he said with a tiny chuckle and a giant hug. I cried and laughed, and knew that Mum was doing the same in heaven.
As the funeral cortege drove through the ever expanding town, strangers stopped and bowed their heads – I was touched. I found my Mother’s funeral a deeply comforting experience, thanks to the instinctive unity of my Irish family and friends.
The strength with which Irish people face adversity is ingrained within their culture and I admire them hugely for it. Ireland is suffering at the moment, but I have no doubt the people will survive, flourish and turn Ireland back into the creative cultural force that the Celtic Tiger and the politicians ruthlessly trampled over.
gerardfsmith 41-45, M 1 Dec 11, 2010