Until morale improves. Golf and the Wages of Sin. The Crying Room.

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I love this inscription on the Floraville path of memories: The beatings will continue until morale improves. It’s for your own good. Spare the rod etc. On Monday morning, after the childrens’ sodality, the schoolmaster beat the boys who had not attended church from three o’clock to four, the previous day. No excuse was accepted. ‘Where were you yesterday?’ ‘Sick, sir.’ ‘Not good enough. Sín amach do lámh.’ Think of the courage of a small boy stretching out his hand for the cane. ‘Caddying, sir.’  ‘Caddying! Caddying!’ This was a ‘reserved sin’. To endanger one’s immortal soul for a few pieces of silver from a good natured golfer on Sunday afternoon, smacked of the treachery of Judas. ‘ How much did you get? What did you do with it?’  ‘Gev it up, sir.’ ‘Not good enough. Sín amach do lámh’.  The child had contributed his few shillings to the household budget, no small consideration in the hungry Forties. One boy admitted that he had bought noranges. Nobody laughed. ‘Sín amach do lámh.’ Noranges, in the lean years after the war! Bloody luxury! The boy will be hung. ‘Now stand up the boys who were up in the gallery.’ This was , for some reason, a particularly offensive offence. I don’t know what depravity went on up in the gallery. There is an old music-hall song, ‘Miss Jenny Lind, With the Entire Company and This Time , Principally YOUR—SELVES’: The boy/girl (Delete as appropriate) I love is up in the gallery. Up in the gallery… The church is no place for that sort of thing. Down with that sort of thing etc.. Sín amach do lámh.

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Margaret and I  sat at the back of a crowded church yesterday. We were in the chidrens’ room, sometimes called The Crying Room. It was Mike’s First Communion Day. The children looked very smart in their new outfits. They were happy.They sang a song about thanking God ‘for making me me.’ Songs of Innocence.  There was another one that sounded a bit like: Ob-la-di Ob-la-dah life goes on brah, la la how life goes on.. Some small children in the room, broke off from their kick boxing, to dance together. The parents smiled indulgently. A granny with a walking -stick tried to restore order. Let’s hear it for grannies. My mind wandered. I remembered sodality. Sodales, dining companions, boon companions, members of a secret society. No we weren’t. There was no fine dining on Sunday afternoons in the church. There were hymns in Latin: Jenny Tory, Jenny Tokway, louse et jubilatio… I liked the sound of Latin, although I wondered who Jenny was and where the louse came into it.. Somebody up in the gallery, played the organ. My older brothers took me to my first sodality. ‘Then the priest comes out with some yoke and lights a fire in it. The church fills up with this lovely smell’. I loved the drifting smoke and the lovely smell. I imagined that my prayers rose up, like the smoke in the afternoon light, to wisp about the throne of God.

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Those windows haven’t been opened in years. No waft of fresh air has come in there for half a century. The spiders are secure in their tenancy. I thought of the countless numbers of good people who have given their time to the church. Their contributions built it. It was thronged every Sunday, as it was for yesterday’s Mass.  Nowadays it is mostly a church for children and old people. I went to an evening funeral. By the time the crowd had finished sympathising with the bereaved family, it was time for the visiting mission priest to address the mens’ retreat. I stayed on. A mind, just like a window, should be opened occasionally. He spoke about lust and the sins of the flesh. I looked around. I was the youngest in the church. The other customers were propped up on sticks. Down with all that carry-on, we agreed.

I felt sorry for Colin Powell when he was instructed to address the U.N. on the matter of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was obvious that he didn’t believe his own words. Body language. He showed a spy camera video of a large truck manoeuvring in a circle. This was to put the fear of God into the members of the U.N. Be careful around large trucks. The invasion went ahead anyway. Iraq was destroyed. A more frightening enemy, Isis/Is/Isol came into being. To Isis, we are all infidels. A Christian church, filled with children on Holy Communion Day, would be a plum target. Very dark thoughts in the Crying Room on such a happy day. By the way, Tony Blair became the Peace Envoy to the Middle East.  For crying out loud! He resigned recently to concentrate on making a few bob for himself. I felt sorry also for decent churchmen who were obliged to repeat the ‘party line’ on the referendum on Marriage Equality for gay people. Body language again.

The light comes through the mottled glass and makes the alcove glow. It’s a granite building. The mica glitters in the sunlight. We came out to see the people laughing, taking photographs and greeting one another. I saw one or two grandaddies who were there on the day I made my First Communion. If only I could recapture some of that innocence.   The news was that the Yes had been carried in the referendum. Ireland had not disgraced itself yet again. I felt proud that a sense of fairness had lifted the dark and cruel shadows of the past from fellow citizens who had suffered too long.  We went to Mike’s birthday party. There was a bouncy castle, as decreed by the Third Vatican Council—-well, it will be. Things change. We were charmed to see our children and their children enjoying a family day together. The other news is that Mike made a few bob. I could well have gone caddying in the golf club and made a few for myself, on such a fine day, but I don’t know a niblick from a five iron. Tips would have been thin on the ground.

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We are living in a better Ireland today. I spotted this sign on the way home. A bank open on a Saturday! For mortgage appointments! A few bob available. No grovelling required. (I made that bit up.)

In a couple of years they have built a home sweet home/With a couple of kids running in the yard/Of Desmond and Molly Brown…./Ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on…yeah..la-la-la-la life goes on…

Indeed it does. The beatings have been suspended. Let’s hear it for the Beatles.

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Monument Corner, Cowboys and Cornerboys.

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I heard an old actor,( correction, actore,) telling a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a translation of a Sean O Casey play, for a tour of Israel. A complaint from, I think, Captain Boyle, (he complained a lot) “Chisellers nowadays has no respect for their parents” was rendered into Hebrew as “Stone-cutters nowadays have no respect for their parents.” It loses something in translation. The stone-cutters who made The Monument had great respect for their craft and for their materials, translating Milverton limestone into a mini version of The Wellington Monument. It tells of the great respect and affection with which the tenants of James Hans Hamilton M.P. regarded him. It was a different time, as they say nowadays. Things were done differently, as they never tire of telling us. The late Christy Fox told me that when he was young, it was regarded as a patriotic duty to pull a railing off  The Monument. They were solid wrought iron, but over the years they became bedraggled and bent from the attentions of young lads. We could rotate some of them to the extent that they had gouged holes in the limestone. We could get inside and play hide and seek around the steps.  No respect.

As a very small chiseller, I too got lost there. My mother left me holding the handle of the pram, ‘minding the baby’, while she nipped into The Medical Hall, one of the businesses on the left. They had everything in there, in little mahogany drawers with brass handles and labels, although it was quite a while before I could read about the mythical contents. . They had myrrh! They had nard? They had manna, for Heaven’s sake. Maybe she nipped in for some frankincense. I nipped over to peer into the phone box. There were bus tickets and cigarette butts on the floor. The little windows were dirty. I struggled to open the door and go inside. I couldn’t reach the phone high up on the wall. I saw my mother coming out and looking around in panic.  I yelled but she couldn’t hear me. It was like shouting under water, like in a nightmare. The door was so heavy that it took me a while to open it. She must have concluded that I had wandered off towards home. It was the first time I ever saw my mother running.  She ran across the road and round the corner into Cross Street. She had abandoned me.  The world was suddenly a grim and frightening place. I bawled in terror and tried to catch her.

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There were two young boys sitting on a doorstep at one of the cottages on the left. It must have been a slow afternoon for amusement. I was manna from on high, a lost and weeping toddler. In the best traditions of Irish hospitality and helping the distressed traveller, one of them gave me a clout in the face. It made their day. I ran on, on legs too short for any speed, bleating like a lost lamb. I did a round of the block, past the Munster and Leinster Bank and down Convent Lane.  I spotted her with the pram, running past the end of the lane. Her distress was evident, even at a distance.  It was like Saint Aidan’s swallow flitting across the hall, from one window to another, out from darkness, a second in the light of life and back again into the black void of eternity. I yelled even louder. She came back, in freeze-frame. I ran to her. All was well even though she scolded me severely. I held on after that.

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What a vantage point it was to watch all the excitement of Strand Street. By the time the motor bike races began, the pump {Plate 1} at the corner had been relocated to the pavement. However exciting the motor bikes may have been, they could not compete with the hustle and bustle of a typical day’s traffic, two ‘oul’ ones’ and a pony trap. There should be a dog in the picture. There was always a dog. There should be a man on a bike. He had the street to himself from the invention of photography until the coming of the horseless carriage. Maybe he has  nipped into the Grand Hotel down at the end of the street, just for ‘the one’.  Maybe he has gone to get a shovel and brush to sweep up some of the dung for his garden. Note the finely chiselled, limestone kerbs. There are still a good few of them, resisting the advance of tarmacadam. Most of the cobble stones have been obliterated. The place is thronged with horseless carriages nowadays. When will the traffic get back to normal?

Click on Plate2 and you will see Duffs’ farmyard, right in the centre of the town. This was one of the remarkable features of old Skerries. I recall at least four farmyards along the main streets. Christy Fox explained to me the economic importance of the dung hill in an almost self-sufficient farming family. It was in the centre of the yard, where waste from, byre, stable and house, could be conveniently dumped. The pigs had the run of the yard. None of that oul’ health and safety to complicate peoples’ lives. As chisellers, we contributed to the economy by driving Duffs’ cows home to Strand Street in the evenings, for milking. We became cowboys because we were friends with Ronnie Duff.  Cowboys, not drovers. Drovers are shambling fellows with ash-plants, mis-shapen hats and mackintoshes. Cowboys strut. Cowboys run also, to shut gates along the way and drive the cows away from every lane and intersection, down Dublin Road, Hoar Rock or Cross Street.  Cowboys have to be nippy on the feet to avoid the splatters of dung from the plodding, waddling, sashaying, swaying, milk-laden animals.  An occupational hazard of the trail drive. All we lacked were horses and six-shooters. We lost our suburban garden gate thirty years ago. It rusted away. I felt a twinge of anxiety about what would happen when the cows came along. I could stand there on guard until the cows come home, if you know what I mean, and no cows will come splattering down the road to invade our garden and cavort around the lawn with their white rolling eyes and slobbering tongues.  They knew where they were going but they enjoyed the bit of diversion.

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As for our esteemed and benevolent landlord, he probably died from worrying about all those tenants and from a nasty case of stalactitis.  Perhaps the chisellers might come back and repoint the blocks, out of respect. He has got a new set of railings from the demolished Holy Faith Convent and also a colourful flower bed, not that  us cowboys would  have approved of flowers.

With regard to the clout in the ear in 1944, the young gentleman faded from my memory for many years. I encountered him in a bar half a lifetime later. I should have called him out and gunned him down in the dust for a low-down, side-windin’ bushwhacker, but there was no dust. I had left my shootin’ irons at home and he was a most genial and affable barman. Furthermore, he was about six foot six in height, with forearms like hams. I reckoned it was time to let the matter rest and mosey on down the trail, into the sunset.