The sound of the bell was probably the first sound I was aware of. Sorry, ‘of which I was aware.’ I was born in the square house immediately across the street from Saint Patrick’s Church in Skerries. The house is marked for demolition at some point in the near future, as is the rusty-roofed one to the left and Mrs Behan’s tall house to the right. Mrs Behan was in attendance on the night I was born on. There I go again. ‘the night on which I was born.’ My mother, a linguist and teacher of languages for many years, forgot herself. “It’s a terrible world to bring a child into.” ‘Into which to bring a child.’ Write it out fifty times. I said nothing at the time. I had to take this story on trust, at a later date. I later heard that Mr. Churchill stated: “That is a construction up with which we will not put.” There were many things up with which he did not put at the time. I consulted the Irish Times, some seventy years later. I nearly said ‘later on.’ My mother was right. A bloody, awful world then and for many people, still a bloody and awful world, especially for children.
Mr Churchill told the House that there was ‘no point in calling for explanations at every turn in this dangerous struggle.’ Air attacks on shipping; The Duce is confident; The French (Vichy) are defending their political interests in Syria; Aftermath of the bombing of the North Strand in Dublin; British and French (Free French/De Gaulle’s forces) now only sixteen miles from Damascus; A gift of half a million dollars of Red Cross funds and two freighters of food to Éire from the United States. 15,000 British killed in Crete. And so it goes on. Damascus, for God’s sake! Two rival French armies fighting to retain Syria? A terrible world and a mad and bloody world. I wonder if those freighters made it across the Atlantic. I wonder if I got any of that food. Food was a constant preoccupation in those days. Irish children are much taller nowadays. You don’t hear of rickets, chilblains or infantile paralysis any more.There were great advances in medicine during that war. Doctors got plenty of practice.
There was a right-wing Catholic organisation called Maria Duce. An inspired choice of names. Their newspaper was called FIAT. Nothing to do with Mussolini or Italian motor cars. Fiat: Let It Be Done. Mary as Leader. Their particular line was that Article 41 of the new Irish constitution, guaranteeing the ‘special position’ of the Catholic Church, should be ‘enforced.’ All non-Catholics should be expelled from Ireland. There are people in Syria today with similar ideas and worse. Rudolf Hess in England. Mr. Churchill was asked if Herr Hess had brought any proposals with him ‘to solve the problems of Europe.‘ ‘Are not the people of Britain entitled to know what these proposals might be?’ ‘I have no statement to make to the House on this matter.’ (Cheers). Refreshingly direct. I didn’t read all this on the night I was born on…or whatever. After a lifetime of reading The Irish Times, I have almost given up on it because it is always so glum, censorious and downright negative. Maybe the fault is mine. Maybe the news is on a loop and it is still a terrible world. However, the luxury of Viyella weekend shirts, for men’s lighter moments, golfing, cycling, gardening or just plain lazing; 16/6; with their brighter colours and attractive patterns, provided some relief to the general gloom. I have a couple of just plain lazing shirts to laze around in ..eh…in which to laze around.
I take on trust the fact that the garden gave onto the Tennis Court Lane. I have no recollection of the garden or the house. My brother broke his arm in a fall in the garden and spent some time in Jervis Street Hospital. He developed a life-long hatred of potatoes during his stay. Bloody lucky to get potatoes, I say. And medical treatment. He fell over a garden roller. Somebody had at some time, laid a lawn there. Not my Old Man. ‘Gave onto’..Give in…give up……give away…ah! give over. More prepositions. There is a new school there. I wonder if the teachers give out as much as they used to. That is something into which I must enquire. My Old Man gave out to me and my brother for making noise in Mr. Van Aalst’s shop. We had two round biscuit tins that made a satisfying, plangent noise when we pressed down on the lids. We had gone to collect a sugar ration, that my mother wanted to make blackberry jam with. (Full of vitamins…and pips.) Mr.Van Aalst asked us to stop. We grinned, daring each other to continue. We played a little counterpoint. The consequences were grim. He told our parents. We got a hiding and were skull-hauled down to apologise to Mr. Van Aalst. I think Mr. Van Aalst was a Jewish refugee from Holland. In another place we might well have got a pat on the head from our parents. I am still quite proud of their instinctive reaction. They couldn’t do that nowadays. They had no time for Maria Duce either or their little Italian motor car. (The foregoing should of course, read ‘ with which my mother wanted to make jam.’) Her inadvertent misplaced preposition in June 1941, left me maimed for life by an anxiety about syntax, punctuation and grammar. Should the Viyella shirts refer to ‘men’s lighter moments’ or mens’ lighter moments’? Apostrophes are also things that people have difficulty with….
That dark line marks the old boundary between the townlands of Skerries and Holmpatrick. I was born in Holmpatrick. That makes me a Southsider. In Dublin that would have a special cachet and a special accent. I know a man, of my own age, who was conceived in Clontarf, born dead on Butt Bridge and revived in Holles Street Hospital. This made him, uniquely, both a Southsider and a Northsider or neither. He has devoted his life to music and harmony. He has made the world a better place. His accent is pleasantly unaffected, due to his unusual coming into the world…twice.
My parents came to Skerries in 1939 because they feared that there was going to be a war. They feared that Dublin would be bombed. They were right. More correctly, they were correct. They wanted to ensure that they could get fresh milk for the children. It proved to be a good move. They settled here. We , by and large, have stayed here. It is a good town to put down roots in. It has been a good town for Margaret and me, in which to raise a family. (Not ‘Margaret and I’ by the way. You wouldn’t say ‘for I to raise a family’ etc. Oh, never mind.) I tend to look back on birthdays and reckon up the good things that have happened over the years. That garden is now a car park. The motor car is king. The house is derelict. I feel no sentimental pangs. I left that house at the age of one. My memories of it are second hand.
Our grandchildren are growing. Our eldest grandchild finished her secondary education yesterday. Now that’s a significant landmark. She magicked us into grandparents. We brought her to nursery school and collected her. We have seen her grow. Margaret made all the cakes for her significant occasions and for those of her siblings and little cousins. It has been a wonderful experience. She intends making a career in music. May she always spread harmony and make the world a better place..
The sun did shine, even in the 1940s, despite what you may have heard.
The house looks better from the front….but where did all those cars come from? Or, from whence came all those cars?