Monday, March 23, 2009

Memories of Ireland from mid-century

I share here fresh maternal memories received. My wife blogged last week how her mother's 1979 notebook in shorthand keeps a mystery. Less enigmatic may be these from my side, roots for my Irish branch.

My birth-mother wrote me a couple of letters the past few days. I'd been discussing the travails and triumphs, modest as both may be, of our boys. She responded with her own musings, silently edited by me here: they're the first real details I've heard from her about her childhood (she's the exact counterpart in age with Tony!), preceded only by these two paragraphs sent earlier this month:

My friend Jeanne, former roommate, sent me a great piece from an English paper about the decline of the Celtic Tiger, that they now say is reduced to pussycat. I found it especially interesting because of the subject of the article, Tony O’Reilly as I was certainly aware of his history. He was the same age as I although regrettably did not know him personally. He was our Rugby hero during our teen-age years and every young woman’s idol. He was of course very tall, he had a head of beautiful auburn hair, and brilliant green eyes. He also dated our next-door neighbor, Maureen Connelly.

When I lived at 64 Rathgar Road, my friends used to like to come to my house where we would adjourn to the bedroom which Mary and I shared. We kept an eagle eye out the front window and eventually on many days, he would stop his car outside our houses to pick up Maureen. Brigit, Vi, Jan and I, would screech like the teenagers we were and inventing all sorts of romantic moments between the two of them. A few minutes later, they would come out, get into his car, and drive off to some romantic place together. I will send you the story, under separate cover, because it is not all about this, but the fact that he rose up to be one of Ireland's most successful men. First becoming chair of the Heinz Company, and then buying up various newspapers, marrying a Greek Heiress and now his awful downfall with the failure of two more of his acquisitions, Waterford Glass and Wedgwood China. Somehow, knowing Tony, this will not stop him, even though he is 72.

This from a later letter, in which I related the latest about my sons' ups and downs:

I can really relate to the awful years they are going through right now. The teenage years are horrible, probably even worse for a boy than a girl. Jerry and my worlds were easier as least the times were better. I clearly remember, however, the latter days of World War II especially when we were living in Belfast. The only job my father could get was in construction. He and mother and moved to the North in the hope that he could get a job at the Ship Yards but of course, this was impossible due to his religion. This was true of any of the better paying jobs. These “Micks” were not welcome and were regularly beaten up if they got too “uppity.”

I also remember the flat we lived in and the many evenings we sat around the meager fire handing around a milk bottle, which my mother had filled with sour milk and we all took turns moving the bottle the milk from side to side, trying to get it to churn and give us some resemblance to butter. The flat was lit with gas and each room had a sort of fixture with a small extremely flimsy mantel that fell into smithereens by the slightest touch. Except for one room, the others were heated by gas fires which worked by putting coins into the meter.

My God, I am sounding like an ancient old hag. Now when I put this down on paper these things keep flooding my mind. I have not even talked to Jerry about any of these memories. It was just too difficult. I was only in Belfast from about the age of five to eight. I have never gone back to that city.

It wasn't a great deal better when we moved to Dublin. My father has a fondness for gambling and was sure that he was going to make a fortune one day, on either the Irish Sweepstakes or the ponies. I am afraid that visits to the racetracks in Dublin when he took me along gave me a taste too. I loved the racing. It was nothing like it here. People got all dressed up and the women wore hats and gloves. Of course, we were not able to afford the expensive seats but standing on sidelines was fine. The races were usually three miles long and steeplechases with horses gracefully jumping over small hedges and stiles.

This in follow-up to my request for any more recollections from Belfast:

I have a vague recollection that we lived on Clifton Street in Belfast but I may be completely wrong. Next time I talk to Mary, I will ask her if she remembers. I think that I mentioned to you one time that her recollection of our growing is completely different than mine. She remembers that everything was peachy cream and that her childhood was perfect. However, I know that my recollections are not dreams. I could not have invented such details.

When were living in Galway {this would have been probably early in WWII}, I was shipped up to Belfast to stay with Auntie Molly and her daughter Dorothy, who was a WREN and looked absolutely smashing in her uniform. She was at least 5'10" or more and was really beautiful. I am sure that Uncle Jack named his Dorothy (later changed to Dorrie by her), Molly was my father and Jack's oldest sister. They lived near Queens University {University Avenue}. I lived with them on a previous trip but they had moved to a place outside Belfast City. {Finaghy in her postscript.}

Photo: A bedsit for 350 euro monthly was for rent by 28 Jan, now the site has been leased and was removed from the cached listing. "This is a small studio bedsit suitable for one person only. It contains a livingroom, bedroom kitchen and is in fair condition and has new carpets and has been newly painted. The bedroom and livingroom are separate but both are small and the property will only suit one person. Please email for viewing times. This property is viewing tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday 27th January at 1.30pm for 10 mins. The full address is 64 Rathgar road and you are welcome to attend. * Parking * Central Heating * Cable Television * Washing Machine * Microwave."

1 comment:

Layne said...

All of my family history I will ever know, I know right now. How righteous that you are finally learning yours. This is a beautiful gift which you well deserve.