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Mother

In the Garden

Saturday, 16 January, 2016 0 Comments

If you’re looking for a more down-to-earth alternative to the mystical verse of W.B. Yeats, the poetry of Thomas Hardy is recommended. This work is dedicated to the memory of “Her towards whom it made”. The garden, that is.

In the Garden

We waited for the sun
To break its cloudy prison
(For day was not yet done,
And night still unbegun)
Leaning by the dial.

After many a trial –
We all silent there –
It burst as new-arisen,
Throwing a shade to where
Time travelled at that minute.

Little saw we in it,
But this much I know,
Of lookers on that shade,
Her towards whom it made
Soonest had to go.

Thomas Hardy

The son of a stonemason, Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset on 2 June 1840. His novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), which are considered classics today, received negative reviews on publication and Hardy was criticized for being preoccupied with sex. Some booksellers sold Jude the Obscure in brown paper bags, and the Bishop of Wakefield, Walsham How, is reputed to have burnt his copy. Distressed by this, Hardy turned to poetry. He died on 11 January 1928.

In the garden


Laelius de Amicitia

Friday, 8 January, 2016 0 Comments

“The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living.
Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.”

ā€” Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January 106 BC ā€“ 7 December 43 BC)

Lisvernane church

Cicero concluded his great treatise on Friendship, Laelius de Amicitia, thus:

“We had one house, one table, one style of living; and not only were we together on foreign service, but in our tours also and country sojourns. Why speak of our eagerness to be ever gaining some knowledge, to be ever learning something, on which we spent all our leisure hours far from the gaze of the world? If the recollection and memory of these things had perished with the person, I could not possibly have endured the regret for one so closely united with me in life and affection. But these things have not perished; they are rather fed and strengthened by reflection and memory. Even supposing me to have been entirely bereft of them, still my time of life of itself brings me no small consolation: for I cannot have much longer now to bear this regret; and everything that is brief ought to be endurable, however severe.

This is all I had to say on friendship. One piece of advice on parting. Make up your minds to this: Virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.”


Perfect moments were had in that garden

Thursday, 31 December, 2015 0 Comments

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory,” said Leonard Nimoy, who died in February. The year was still young when the world’s most famous half-Vulcan passed away and our great gardener was still creating those perfect moments. They ended in September and we were left to ponder the words of Kahlil Gibran: “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” As we say farewell to 2015, we remember the fortitude and courage and every other aspect of the great human soul now gone to her eternal reward. Perfect moments were had. For those we are grateful and they are preserved in memory.

Farewell, mother


The fourteenth Station: Legacy

Monday, 7 December, 2015 0 Comments

The happy news: These “stations,” these posts, will appear in book form in time for the 6 September anniversary next year. In this way, part of my mother’s great legacy will be preserved and published. She’d like that.

Mammy in Bally

As we stand at this final station in the life of Kit Fitz, as she was known by so many of those who admired and respected her, we give thanks for the privilege it was to have shared her company for so long. Her boundless energy and thirst for knowledge ensured that every moment in her presence was theatrical, informative and challenging. The Latin phrase, ora et labora (pray and work), which is rooted in Christian mysticism, was the engine of her life. She knew that time is fleeting and in her doing and her being she encouraged everyone to make good use of the precious hours we’re allotted. Despite the constant urging to strive and to save for “the rainy day”, she abhorred the pathetic existence of the workaholic. There had to be time as well for play. The cards, the games, the music and, above all, the prayers, were important because they helped anchor a person in the world.

We miss the constant expressions of wisdom and we regret not documenting more, but we are determined to share and safeguard this priceless legacy.


The thirteenth Station: Love

Sunday, 6 December, 2015 0 Comments

The union that was celebrated by the wedding guests on 16 June 1952 at Riversdale House in the Glen of Aherlow witnessed many wonders in the 63 years of its fortunate existence. None was more wondrous than that expressed in the two words “rural electrification.” It would prove to be the tipping point for the enterprise that became the happy couple’s mission in life.

Daddy and Mammy

When many of today’s generation hear about rural electrification, they think either of the developing world or of ancient agrarian history. For my parents, however, their marriage year coincided with the electrification of rural Ireland. It was a happy coincidence because electrification was the difference between power and powerlessness, between past and future, between regression and progress. Tellingly, my mother and father rarely used the word “electricity”. They referred to it as “the light”. If, during a storm, a transformer was affected and power was cut off, the first thing that was noticed was the outage of the electric light as represented by the Sacred Heart lamp in the kitchen. “The light’s gone,” was the phrase that was used to declare the loss of electricity. The use of light as a synonym for electricity was significant in that the alternative state was darkness, with all its metaphorical connotations.

During the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond the first decade of the 21st century, mother and father devoted themselves to raising their family, expanding their business and establishing an envied presence as an example of wisdom, respect and integrity in their community. Such are the rewards of the thing called love, which is, in the long run, unique to each couple, their personalities, their dreams and their principles.

An anecdote sums up what love meant to my mother. One evening last year, her great companion Bridget Fitzgerald arrived with the latest recording by the rural heartthrob, Nathan Carter. We drank tea, listened to songs and then, Bridget holding up the CD cover featuring the handsome Nathan, said, “Kit, wouldn’t you like to wake up in the morning and seen him in the bed beside you?”

My mother glanced at the toothful Nathan and then looked up at the wedding photo from June 1952 and said, “Bridge, if I could, I’d have the same fella again.” Such was love.

Tomorrow, here, our final station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Legacy.


The twelfth Station: Pain

Saturday, 5 December, 2015 0 Comments

There’s a difference between pain and pains, and it’s not just between singular and plural. My mother rarely spoke about pain, but she was an authority on pains. Or, as she called them, “the pains.”

The great hands

These “pains” were the result of life-long physical labour in spring, summer, autumn and winter in all kinds of weather. From childhood, she had fed calves, milked cows, cleaned outhouses, planted potatoes, saved hay, washed clothes, baked bread, plucked turkeys, made puddings, polished floors, painted doors, cleaned churns, planted shrubs, lit fires, cooked dinners, cut hedges, picked berries, darned socks, knit cardigan and trimmed hair. And that’s the shortened version of the list. The result was rheumatism, arthritis and a bad back but this was the price she was willing to pay so that so that others would benefit from her work and compassion.

As regards pain, she dealt with it by praying. Hail, holy Queen was one of her favourites because it offered comfort: “Mother of mercy, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” It’s not romantic; it’s unsentimental, just like pain.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Love.


The eleventh Station: Substance

Friday, 4 December, 2015 0 Comments

“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Those words from the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical were written with us in mind for this photograph shows our very own Camelot.

Home, sweet home

The camera never lies and what it captured with its eagle eye on this summer’s day was an Arthurian castle with walls, enclosures and fortifications. Here we were secure because father and mother had built something of substance that would protect us from the elements and shield us from invaders. Well, that’s how one young imagination saw it anyway.

The court was the kitchen. This was where ambassadors were received, feasts were enjoyed, tales were told, games played, songs sung and plans for the upkeep of the kingdom were made. Despite the many demands of “business”, there was always time for tea because tradition required that knights, ladies, clerics and scholars had to be entertained. Substance was more than just putting food on the table. It was hospitality, it was generosity, it was decency, it was dignity. The satisfaction that my parents felt in the substance that was the result of their labour was reflected in the attention they devoted to its upkeep. Paint was applied, weeds were banished and flowers were cultivated.

Our Arthur and Guinevere have found their final rest in the local Avalon but for those who sat at their table it will never be forgot, “that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Pain.


The tenth Station: Style

Thursday, 3 December, 2015 0 Comments

Style is innate, but it can be nurtured. Photos of my mother’s mother, and ones of her grandmother, show elegant, confident women wearing beautiful coats trimmed with fur, sporting graceful hats adorned with feathers and holding the finest of leather handbags. No wonder my mother understood style. It was part of her heritage and that’s why she preferred to use “style” rather than “fashion” when talking about beautiful clothes and those who wore them.

Stylish

Style represented defiance. Bad weather, hard times, troubles and worries were part of life but a bit of style was an expression of boldness in the face of those forces that would destroy the spirit if they were allowed to have their way. One had to fight and the armour was style.

“What did you make of the style?” was one of the first questions asked about a formal occasion such as a wedding. Her exacting standards meant that most praise was accompanied by a “but”, regardless of the outfit. “Oh, she was gorgeous entirely, but the shoes were too flat. A bit of a heel is nice.” Alternatively, “There was no meaning to the shoes, and what harm but the dress was lovely.” Perfection was the standard, but it was rarely if ever attained in her opinion.

Style had a practical component. “Those are good shoes. How much did they cost?” If there appeared to be a sensible relationship between the price and the purchase, style points were awarded. If not, they were deducted. Shoes were the foundation upon which all style was built and my mother could spend weeks, months, in pursuit of the “right” shoes. If a suitable pair was found, they would be expected to earn their keep.

Fashion comes and goes, but style is permanent. That was her credo and, like most of her beliefs, some of which were not fashionable, it was right and remains true.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Substance.


The eighth Station: Bibs

Tuesday, 1 December, 2015 0 Comments

As the tide of the past recedes, it carries away much of what we thought was permanent. Gone with the undertow are the “bibs”, those apron-like uniforms rural women once wore indoors and outdoors. Unlike so much of modern work clothing, numbingly alike in its drabness, the bib was colourful, floral, cheerful. So what if the work that had to be done by the wearer involved drudgery? One could still tackle it in style.

The bibs

My mother’s favourite was the crossover bib. As a young girl she had fashioned them from recycled cotton flour bags, adding an embroidered decoration here and there and finishing off with some bright ric-rac trim as a flourish. The patterns had their origins in pinafores that relatives had sent back from England and the uniquely Irish result was a wrap-around coverall titled the “bib”. The word itself has its origins in the Middle English verb bibben, meaning to drink, from the Latin bibere, either because the garment was worn while drinking or because it soaked up spills. It was definitely the latter in my mother’s case as the bib was worn when bathing children, milking cows, washing dishes and countless other tasks that involved spills and splashes.

“I’ll take off the bib,” was my mother’s declaration that something significant was about to happen. This could indicate preparation for a trip or it might involve the arrival of an important visitor. Once the visitor had departed or when the trip ended with a return to home, the bib has donned and “the jobs” began again.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Tracing.


The seventh Station: Farming

Monday, 30 November, 2015 1 Comment

Each cow had a name and a designated place in the stall. All had unique personalities and this had to be taken into account during the milking, otherwise the bucket might be kicked over and its valuable contents would merge with the rushes and dung that covered the cow-house floor. Unappetizing. Unprofitable. It paid to be mindful.

Mother milking

Nothing much changed when the milking machine arrived. The hard labour of milking by hand ended and the herd size doubled, but the individual attention to the cows remained the same. Mother and father fed them all kinds of good things: wheat pollard decorated with pulped turnips; crisp hay adorned with scented beet pulp and, above all, good grass. In return, they delivered quality milk. My mother’s love of cows was more than the stereotypical affection for those big bovine eyes. It was bound up with the firm knowledge that care and attention would be rewarded with a product that fed the family, warmed the home and provided for the rainy day.

The cows and their precious milk were part of an ecosystem called “the farm”. Like the cows, this was not an anonymous conglomerate: each field had its own name: the Paddock, the Long Field, the Spout Field, the Drainy Field, the Meadow, Egan’s, Neill’s, Franks’… That latter name was bound up with a contested Anglo-Irish history that stretched back to the 17th century and both my parents had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the connections between the parts that made up the whole. Twice, in the 1960s, they bought fields that helped turn the farm into a more viable enterprise. This was the biggest “play” of their careers. Money had to be borrowed which was risky because farming, regardless of the scale, is a hazardous industry and an accident or an illness can change everything in an instant. With a young family and a lack of “staff”, as my mother used say, they took the chance, anyway, and it paid off. Their assembly of fields, paid for with blood, sweat and tears, was their joint masterpiece — a true labour of love.

There’s a vague memory of early summer Sunday mornings, when the milking still took place in the fields. It was early because the milk had to be taken earlier than usual to the creamery on a Sunday. The splish-splash of the milk hitting the inside of the metal buckets was accompanied by the sound of my mother and father singing. They were in their prime, they were healthy, they were happy and they were in their fields.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Bibs.


The sixth Station: Childhood

Sunday, 29 November, 2015 0 Comments

One of my best friends in this photo is a dog. Actually, the dog is more of a playmate than a friend here. Animals are not toys, but they can offer children endless delight. Cuddly creatures are far more fun than gewgaws of wood or metal, no matter how cleverly these things might be designed and crafted. Farms are zoos of a kind, and while most of the animals are involved in the earnest business of converting their meals into milk, meat and eggs, there are other players on the periphery, such as cats and dogs, and their roles blur the line between work and play.

Childhood in Cullane

One of the noticeable things about this photo is the lack of things, apart from a very utilitarian bucket, a tin can and some items drying on the wall. Subsistence farming in the rural Ireland of my childhood did not generate luxury. It wasn’t quite a cashless society, but there was little in the way of disposable income. Despite this, there was no hunger and neither was there material or spiritual poverty. Ghosts still existed and fireside stories about “the troubled times” and characters who “drank the farm” had the power to enchant — if one was disposed towards enchantment, that is. And I was.

Even the prosaic had charm. On the last night that I sat and spoke to my mother beside the fireplace, she told how a neighbour, Hanny Egan, assisted her with the knitting of jumpers. Going to a shop and buying clothing for children was still a novelty at the time. The money wasn’t there, anyway, so the alternative was to make the clothes oneself. Hanny Egan wore a long black coat and she would put a large ball of yarn in each pocket. As she walked to the village of Ballylanders and back, with her knitting needles in hand, she would cast on the stiches — one plain, one purl — and pass away the journey productively. Hanny specialized in the knitting of sleeves, which was quite tricky; my mother worked on the bodies of the jumpers, which required more exertion, and the two of them would then join up the parts over tea.

Love cannot always be articulate, but this act of love was one of many that made for a happy childhood and the creation of those jumpers says all that one needs to know about these people. Within their limited means, my parents did heroic things for their children. They were totally selfless. No holidays for them. No extravagances, either. There may not be much in the way of stuff in that photo but the things that are absent could not be bought nor captured by a camera.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Farming.