Celtic Illumination, part 318, Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.
Despite the fact that it would appear that every ounce of my energy was being put into my writing I was also concentrating on my children. I felt that there was nothing more important than producing well balanced and caring young adults who could stand on their own two feet and make their way in the world. Unfortunately in Ireland, where children are concerned, we have traditions that we, the Irish, respect and maintain, the British would probably call it child abuse. I was reminded of it when I visited Anne and Davie. Anne is the sister of my old girlfriend Pat. I went to visit them one day in their lovely little house in Warrenpoint and was left alone in the front room as Anne went to make a cup of tea.
Next thing you know is that her two eldest children come in. “Hello Boris,” they say. “Would you like us to dance for you?” A smile and a nod was all that they needed before they set about clearing a space in the centre of the living room. There was no music and the two children began to perform an Irish dance in front of me. Anne brought the tea in and not one word was said about what was going on, it was quite normal, it was tradition. It was then that I remembered that each Irish child would have been encouraged to have at least one ‘party piece’ where they would entertain relatives or visitors. For me myself I would often have to stand in front of visitors or relatives and saw a tune out on my violin. Carol didn’t have a musical note in her body so she would recite poetry.
My poor children were encouraged to each learn some poems that they would stand and recite. The last time I remember them performing their routine was in a hotel in Lytham Saint Annes when Aunt Mary came over for a brief visit. It may have looked weird that my children were standing in a hotel foyer reciting poems to four elderly nuns, as bemused English people walked past wondering what on earth was going on, but for me, and Aunt Mary, it was tradition. It’s hard to know if you are bringing your children up correctly and the one comment I remember from a parents teacher meeting was when they said to me, “We don’t know what you are doing to your children, but whatever it is, keep it up.”
We only watched one television programme every week, the Late Late Show, which was broadcast on a Friday evening, around tea time, on an English television channel. The Late Late Show was presented, from Dublin, by Uncle Gaybo, Gay Byrne, no relative at all, but a friend to almost everyone in Ireland. I believe that it was the longest running chat show in the world and sure wasn’t he the first fellow to introduce The Beatles on screen. Uncle Gaybo was another Irish tradition. In the evenings we would entertain ourselves, or as the children might say, I tortured them. I still had the coffee table I had made in Germany and it had gone through many transformations. In fact on one occasion it had turned in to a blackboard, but now it was back as a coffee table. I was looking at it one evening and I had an idea, this is where the family tend to run away and hide. I had been looking at a jar of shrapnel earlier on in the day. Shrapnel is the name we gave to loose change and I had a right old collection of coins from all over the world. I decided to set them in to the top of the coffee table and so set about doing it.
I ended up with perhaps fifty different coins set in to the table top which I sealed with a nice thick coat of varnish. There were more than just coins set in to the table as I had come across an old button, from Irene’s fathers service uniform, so that had to go in. What we would now do is once the children were bathed, in their pyjamas, and ready for bed, is that we would get them to sit around the coffee table. They had to close their eyes and run a finger around the table top. Someone would shout ‘stop’ and depending on the country that the coin they had landed on, or was closest to, they now had to make up and tell a five minute story about that country. I know it sounds mad but we thought it was fun and it became our very own family tradition.
I would also take at least one of the children with me if I ever went anywhere. I can’t remember why we had gone to Ireland but I do remember my son James and myself going over. My cousins had carried on the tradition of having summer homes and each had a large caravan at a holiday park at a place in the Republic called Clogherhead. It was a nice little place and it even had a shipwreck on the beach in front of us. I mean what else can a little boy hope for. More importantly was the fact that Clogherhead is only a couple of miles away from Drogheda, which for me was one of the most historically important locations in Ireland. James and myself were in a caravan that sat right on the edge of the beach. Behind us, in the second row of caravans, were my mother and Aunt Margaret. Behind them, in the third row of caravans, was Uncle Seamus, the pervert priest.
This was one of the first times that I realised what a dangerous and predatory man he really was and remember telling James that should Seamus ask him to go to the caravan he was staying in, or even spend the night there, he was to refuse. I didn’t like the way I was thinking, it unsettled me, but it would still be some time before the situation would resolve itself in my mind. We found some fishing rods in one of the caravans and decided that we should go fishing. The previous day James and I had sat and watched three men fish for salmon. They had a boat and a net and it was so relaxing just to sit and watch them feed the net out and then haul it back in, time and time again. It was nice to see the old traditional methods still being used and even nicer to be able to show them to James.
James and I went in to Drogheda; of course I took him to the site of the Battle of the Boyne, from which so much of the modern day problems in Ireland stem. There is such a beautiful river there that it makes you wonder how the place could have been the site of such murder and mayhem. In Drogheda we found a fishing tackle shop and went in. We selected two reels; some lures and some line, and took them to the man at the shop counter. He rang each item up on the till and asked me for the full amount which was somewhere around fourteen pounds. I reached into my back pocket for my wallet and realised that I must have left it back at the caravan. ”Sorry,” I explained. “I’ve left my wallet back the caravan. If you just keep this stuff in the bag, I’ll go back and get it.” “Not at all,” says the fellow, behind the counter. “Take the tackle with you and next time you’re in Drogheda call in and pay me.”
Now I know some people say that the Irish are laid back, but this was ridiculous. I was of course now under a moral obligation to get the money, return, and pay the man. I made for the car and was stopped by a gypsy woman standing in the street, with a blanket covered baby, asking if I could, “Spare a few coppers, for da child sir?” I thought that I was a young gentleman but as I say, we had traditions in Ireland, one of which was to tell gypsies to feck away off. Before I could smile and apologise I heard myself tell the woman to ‘feck off,’ and hurried past her wondering if I was suffering from some form of Tourette’s. We got the money and returned to the shop where the fellow smiled and accepted his due; he knew I would have been back.
There’s only one other thing you can do after that and that was to take James down the main street of Drogheda and show him a fellows head. Saint Peters church is on the main street of Drogheda and in that church you will find the head of Saint Oliver Plunkett. Little boys love things like that, and it is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Ireland. Plunkett was stitched up by the British, nothing new there then, and sentenced to death. As they knew he would never be found guilty, by any court in Ireland, they had him tried in England and he was hung, drawn and quartered at the famous Tyburn gallows. I suppose it’s a strange thing to show your son, somebodies head in a glass box, but it’s tradition.
But perhaps the best tradition is just how laid back the people of Ireland really are. We went for lunch every day to a local hotel. Nothing special, just a small, country, hotel that served fierce good food. Being a creature of habit I always opted for the turkey breast and cheesy garlic spuds. It was so lovely I once asked if there were any more spuds and the waitress came out with a platter from which she scooped a couple of spoonful’s onto my plate, but kept standing beside me. Every time I cleared a little space on my plate she would plop down another spoonful. “I’m fine,” I said, “Thanks very much.” But she still stood where she was. “They’ll only be thrown out if you don’t eat them,” she says, and I now realise that I’m no longer having lunch but involved in an impromptu eating match.
But by far the best was when I nipped down to the local shop in the tiny little hamlet of Clogherhead. It really was one of those old country shops where you could buy absolutely anything. I think I wanted cigarettes. As I stood at the counter and the lady found what I wanted, I noticed some fishing lures known as feathers, used mainly for mackerel fishing. I knew that there was a small harbour close by so thought that James and myself could spend some time pier fishing. “Can I have two sets of feathers please?” I asked, pointing to the lures. “Are you sure?” asked the woman, behind the counter. “It’s not the season for mackerel,” she said. “I know,” said I. ”I just want to spend some time at the end of a pier with my son.” “Oh!” she says, taking two sets of feathers down and placing them beside the cigarettes. “I won’t charge you for them,” says she.” “Seeing as you won’t be catching any fish with them.”