Saturday, May 28, 2016

Joy in the miserable Irish Catholic childhood

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
                                                                                                        ― Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes

Magee, Geraghty, Dunne and Maher family members on holiday at Rush.
Standing: left to right: Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, a Magee child, Francis 'Frank' Magee;
Seated: left to right: Anne Maher Magee with two of her children, Mary Dunne Magee, my father's maternal grandmother;
Seated on ground: left to right: Patrick Geraghty, Rita Magee, Michael Geraghty (my father).
Dad's grandfather Patrick Magee took the photograph.

When I recollect the reception Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes received in my family, when we read it shortly after its publication, I recall my father and mother had distinctly different responses to McCourt's memoir. My mother Mary found the story incredibly sad, while my father Michael laughed out loud at times, when he read parts of the memoir to which he could relate. One of my father's sisters hated the book because of the reaction it elicited in her work place. Kathleen had emigrated away from Ireland, settling in the UK, and was working in a prestigious position in the British Home Office in London at the time of the memoir's release. She felt as though she was held up as the archetype of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood, with her colleagues apparently assuming her early life had been exactly like that of the McCourt children. Kathleen recounted with disdain the number of times she was asked if her family had picked up bits of coal in the street.

Frank McCourt characterises the Irish Catholic childhood as a miserable one, the worst kind of childhood, but I would argue there is joy to be found in it. It might be said my father and his siblings endured a 'miserable Irish Catholic childhood', growing up in a home of strife and violence, with an alcoholic father who was possibly mentally ill, and whose working life was less than ideal. Despite the difficulties in their family life, my father found joy. This speaks to the remarkable resilience of children who often find happiness in the most simple pleasures.

My father held precious memories of holiday times beginning in the mid 1930s, when he was about six years of age. Dad and his elder brother Patrick travelled with their maternal grandparents, Patrick and Mary Magee, their aunts and uncles — Mary 'Mollie' Magee Halpin, William 'Willie' Halpin, Anne Maher Magee, Francis 'Frank' Magee — and Magee cousins away from the troubled Geraghty home to holiday at Rush, a lovely sea-side town in Fingal, North County Dublin. At Rush, with his extended family, there were delightful memories created, some to last a lifetime.

There was a lightness to these sojourns. The simplicity of the tin 'cottages', with their single windows and tiny doors was all they needed. The soft talc-like sand pushed a path through the fescue grasses on its way to the sea, and the salt air brushed across them in an embrace. The buoyancy of his Uncle Willie's mood, so different from that of his father John, together with joyous shouts of laughter at being tossed into the ice cold sea, was a hitch knot in memory, never to be loosened. Uncle Frank, poised on the crescent beach, a child balanced on one hip and a cigarette on his lips, knew little what it meant for a small lad to hear praise, or have his hair gently tousled, for skimming flat stones just right across the waves. These vestiges of happiness left an imprint on the mind of a tiny boy who grew up and away from Ireland, but never forgot these times.

This post is dedicated with love to the descendants of those in the photographs, to my Irish, English, Australian and American cousins.


Friday, May 13, 2016

On the 85th anniversary of her birth...

Today, on what would have been her 85th birthday, with love we remember our beautiful mother. The collage I've inserted features some of my favourite photos of my mom as she travelled through life, both in Ireland and on her journeys beyond its shores, images which speak to Jonathan Swift's adage, 'May you live every day of your life'.

Our mother was born in Holles Street Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday the 13th, 1931 — always a lucky day — and passed away in 2012, one day after her 81st birthday. We very much miss her 'joie de vivre', and live our lives out loud in honour of our mamma.

Mamma, Happy Birthday in Heaven! 

Click on collage to view larger version.
©irisheyesjgg 2016.

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