Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding Michael: In search of the life Dad once knew in Crumlin, Dublin City

In 2012, a few months after my mother died, I made my way through her childhood neighbourhood in Ringsend, Dublin. It was a journey I had made before, but with the loss of my mom the walk along those footpaths bore new meaning. My father died what seems like so long ago now, 16 March 2000, but in recent years I had not ventured into the neighbourhood of his growing up years, Crumlin, Dublin. I cannot say for certain why I had not gone there, but perhaps there was still a part of my heart that ached when I recollected my father's profound sadness on visiting his old neighbourhood when I was a young teenager.

It was an absence, an erasure of past life, which defined that journey for me. It was what had been missing from our plans which left the deepest impression. We spent weeks in Dublin, visiting family and catching up with old friends, but despite our proximity to Dad's childhood home, it seemed not a single time when we ventured out would we travel near the road on which he had lived. 

One day we did journey out. Although I do not know what triggered Dad's desire to see the place, we wound our way from a visit with Auntie May, whose house had been jammed to the rafters with family, music and laughter. Travelling down from Santry, we happily chatted about Uncle Gerrie's funny poems and songs. Mom was charmed that Auntie May's front parlour was festooned in flowers, as it had always been, and that May still had her beautiful ebony piano. I delighted in all the different kinds of houses we saw along the way, and wondered which one best resembled Dad's former family home.

As we slipped into the north end of Crumlin, Dad got very quiet, then suddenly he stopped the car. It must have been at Bangor Road, though I do not recall for certain, but he shifted the gear into park, turned off the engine and sat there at the intersection closest to his part of Kildare Road. Despite curiosity-driven exhortations from my brother and me, Dad would not make the turn which would bring us to his old front door. Our enthusiasm was stilled by the heavy silence which came over my father. I was completely shut down when he lowered his head and began to quietly weep.

For the next while not a single word was uttered by either my mother or my father. My own emotion caught in my throat, and my eyes filled with tears I did not then understand, but in that moment I felt a love and compassion for my father I had never before known. Although we had never talked about it, I knew my father had endured a difficult childhood. As my mother gently caressed my father's shoulder and brushed his hair away from his eyes, we sat completely quiet. There was no explanation offered for our journey's pause, nor was one begged. After a few minutes passed, Dad started the car, put it into gear, and spirited us away from his memories.

We drove out of Dublin a couple of days after our stop in Crumlin, and travelled throughout the Republic. We went to all of those places of significance in terms of Irish history, but not family history. My father had cycled throughout Ireland when he was a young adult, so he knew the best routes to the ancient ruins, magnificent castles, and overgrown cemeteries. He travelled with ease during those weeks and seemed very happy to visit places which in no way bore the imprint of his family. We did not return into the heart of Dublin, and the last my teenaged eyes saw of the capital on that trip, was through the rain streaked windows of the hired car, as we travelled along the coast road to the airport on our last day in Ireland.

On my adult journeys to the places in Dublin my father knew best, I have ventured into Stoneybatter and visited the home into which my dad was born, travelled out to Cabra where their family had briefly lived, and stopped by Belgrave Square in Rathmines, the last home my father, mother and brother lived in before they emigrated away from Ireland. However, Crumlin was a place I always managed to bypass. Time and again it was on my 'go to' list, but each trip I managed to avoid it.

In September, a few days before I left for Ireland, I decided perhaps it was time to visit Crumlin again, to see the house on Kildare Road where my father had lived with his family, the house he would not visit, and maybe finally lay to rest the ghosts of the past.


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The former Geraghty family home on Kildare Road, Crumlin.
The streamers were put up in celebration of
the All Ireland GAA Football Final on Sunday 20 September.
The former Geraghty home is not on the principle part of Kildare Road, so I was not certain I had arrived at the correct address when I turned into a sort of cul-de-sac. As I emerged from my hired car, an ancient gentleman spied me through narrowed eyes, as though he had me already mapped out as a stranger. Immediately he asked where I was headed. 

Extending my hand to him, I introduced myself, uttered the address and said I had come to visit 'the terraced house in which my Dad grew up'. 'I'm Tom*', he replied, his eyes brightening and the deep creases in his time-worn face seeming to open up to me. 'Geraghty', he repeated as he pointed out the house and then scurried across the narrow road to get 'Kate*', whose family now lives there.

The three of us, Tom, Kate and I, stood in front of the house for quite a while, chatting about the past and the present. They generously listened as I talked about my dad. Tom said he's lived on Kildare Road all his life. He knew the Geraghty family and said he must have known my father Michael, but he could not recall, since his memory is not as good as it was in his younger days.

One part of the past Tom did recollect absolutely delighted me. He explained that the house was quite different now from what it had been when he was a child. In the 1960s or '70s — Tom couldn't quite recall when — two houses, #B and #C, were built onto the end of the row, forever changing the Geraghty home as Tom had known it. When Tom was a child, the house was the last one in the row of terraced houses. 

All of the houses in the row are quite small and have few rooms, 'two up, two down', as they used to say. The homes were constructed by the Dublin Corporation in the mid 1930s, on 250 acres of land in Crumlin, a large scale housing 'estate' for families who lacked decent homes. Because it was on a corner, Tom explained, the Geraghty house had a large back garden. In that garden was a ramshackle shed, and all of it was surrounded by a tall wall. 

Tom remembered my granny — 'Mrs. Geraghty', as he called her — as a very nice, though nearly blind, lady who always let all of the neighbourhood children play in what was the only large back garden on the street. He especially liked that she allowed them to climb up and over and all around that tall garden wall. Tom laughed when he recalled Mrs. Geraghty 'seeing to him' after he tumbled off the wall and into the hedge one summer's day when he was 9 years old. It made me smile to see Tom's face light up as his recollected those long ago days.

When it was time for me to head on my way, Kate asked me to wait until she cleared her kids' bicycles out of the drive, so I could take some 'good photos' of the place, then she wished me 'all the best' on my journey. Tom held open my car door and told me to take very good care of myself. As I stepped into the car he seemed lost in recollections again and said, 'We all loved playing in Mrs. Geraghty's garden, and climbing on that wall. Ah, we'd great fun in your granny’s garden. We'd great fun.' My eyes filled with tears as I bid Tom farewell and thanked him so very much for hanging on to those happy memories. 

As I drove away I quietly whispered 'thanks' to my dad for guiding me there. The knowledge that the garden of Dad's family home had been a place of joy brought me comfort, and I felt perhaps I had finally laid to rest the ghosts of Crumlin and the house on Kildare Road.


Two of my father's brothers, pictured with friends,
in front of the old shed and next to the tall wall in the back garden of
the house on Kildare Road.
Left to right: unknown, Enda Geraghty, unknown, John Geraghty.
My father's youngest siblings, Kathleen and Declan Geraghty, in the garden next to the shed.
Less than a year after this photograph was taken Declan disappeared.
A few blocks from the house on Kildare Road is St. Agnes,
the Roman Catholic Church my father attended with his family.
©irisheyesjg2015.

*Note: In the interests of privacy, the names have been changed and no address is noted.

To learn more about Declan's story see: Walking away from family: A disappeared brother, Declan Geraghty

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8 comments:

  1. I was in Dublin in September as well and went to my aunt's house on Mourne Rd. where she still lives in the house that my father grew up in. It was a corporation house as well and my grandmother moved into in the mid 40s with my Dad, 2 uncles and my aunt, the only one still alive.

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    Replies
    1. Jackie, thanks very much for your comments. Mourne Road is only about 2 kms. from Kildare Road, so perhaps the children knew one another at school. I hope your trip was a very enjoyable one.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. Jenn, a beautifully written account of your experiences. I think it was brave of you to return to a place which represented sadness and difficulty for your dad, to lay to rest those ghosts, and how nice that Tom remembered your family. I think your dad would be proud of you.

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    1. Charlotte, thanks very much for your lovely comments. I do hope my dad would be proud of me. The past can be so difficult to face sometimes, and now I believe I understand just a little more. I wish he had talked more about it, and I wish I had asked more questions.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  3. You are lucky to know even s bit of your Irish past. My great grandparents either spoke little or chose not to pass it down to my grandmother. I think sad memories are sometime sealed up in the heart once people emmigrate

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Brighid, thanks very much for your comments. I do feel lucky to know some of my family's history, knowledge which has come from sometimes asking difficult questions. Not wanting to speak about the past, that's really the Irish curse isn't it (and probably the curse of many other ethnicities too)? Emigrating away from Ireland may indeed seal up those memories, as you say, although many members of my family who still live in Ireland are, at times, reticent to discuss the past. I hope you're able to learn more about your family's story.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. Jennifer, it must have been awful to see your father suffer like that, especially over something that had happened so long ago. I'm glad your final memories of Kildare Road are happier ones that make peace with the past. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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    Replies
    1. Dara, thank you for your lovely comments. It was, as you say, awful to see my dad in such a state, but it did give me some insight into how difficult his life had been. I am so very glad to have visited the house and know there was happiness there too. Thanks so very much for the blessing for my father.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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