Tag: home

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.


The fifth Station: Writing

Saturday, 28 November, 2015 0 Comments

This box is filled with some of the letters my mother wrote to me during the course of four decades. It’s one of many boxes because she wrote often. Three times a week sometimes, and as well as the letters there were cards: birthday cards, Christmas Cards, Easter cards, Saint Patrick’s Day cards, Mass cards, get-well cards, good-luck cards, postcards…

Long before blogging was invented, my mother was posting early and often. Everything that happened at home was noted and remembered and a lot of what was observed made it into her letters.

Mother's letters

“The sun is shining now, but for how long? It’s very cold, no late news of the Tipp murder. You’ll read all the latest on the paper clippings. Too bad.”

“Today is the feast of St Martin, 3rd Nov. I have been making novena, I’ll be going to First Friday to-night so I finish it. I was at mass last night for the Souls & on Wed for the Saints. I went to mass in M-Town yesterday morning for at 10 AM & went to the graves of the Fitzgeralds.”

“It was cold this morning when cycling down at 9.30 to chiropodist. There were 11 before me. I got out a quarter to one. There were 12 more after me inc. Mgt Maguire. She offered to bring me up. I said no as she’d miss out her place in queue.”

The “news”, to use my mother’s term for all things great and small was evaluated, filtered and then committed to bits of paper, usually at the end of the day. The topics featured family, friends, farming, sport and, especially, the weather, and while this framework might appear narrow, these miniature narratives are as revealing as the paintings of Vermeer, whose works are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft. The more one looks, the more one sees.

All human life is expressed in these hundreds upon hundreds of letters. The characters that populate their pages are affected by love, pain, happiness, greed, luck and despair. There are weddings and wakes; there is profit and loss, darkness and light, sickness and health.

In total, the letters represent a tremendous act of communication. Throughout, the voice is unique, the script is always legible and age does not dim the ability to express that which so many people find difficult or impossible to say. What powered this fierce determination to document so many details? The wish, no doubt, the offer comfort to those far from home. But there was something else at work here. There was sharing and there was caring in all this articulation. The time and energy devoted to all these letters were acts of selflessness that had its own rewards when they were written and posted, and nothing can repay such generosity, but the least that can be done is to bring these letters to a wider public and place them before a wider audience. They are worth reading.

Our next station in this series of 14 photographs is Childhood.


The first Station: Work

Tuesday, 24 November, 2015 0 Comments

Look at these faces. What do you see? Life. Health. Energy. Family. Friends. Play. Work. This photo opens a door to the past and reveals a summer glimpse of a lost world. We know now how the story will end for some of the characters in this scene, but that’s hindsight. For the moment let us stay with what was captured on film when the shutter was released on that summer day.

Hay day at home

What’s going on here? The hay that was saved has been transported from the meadow and is being stored in a barn so that the livestock will have food for autumn, winter and spring. It’s an existential moment because that hay is the fuel for the engines of the enterprise: the cows. No hay, no milk; no milk, no money. No money… It’s a knife-edge moment, but there is no sign of anxiety in this image. Instead, there is acceptance. It was hoped that the hay would be saved. It was expected that it would be gathered in to the barn and it was accepted that whatever obstacles emerged along the way the cycle would repeat itself annually for the benefit of all those present and to come.

Yes, there was fatalism in this worldview, but not resignation. “‘Tis the will of God” was how misfortune was explained. There had to be a reason for setbacks, especially those that affected the most vulnerable, but it was assumed that a higher agency was involved and life went on and so did work.

For my mother, work was neither an occupation nor a career. It was an all-encompassing mission. Work secured. Work provided. Work was noble and necessary. “She’s a great worker” was the ultimate praise. “Slavery”, on the other hand, was the word used to dismiss the miserable life of the workaholic. “He’s a pure slave” is how she would describe the farmer bent over double with rheumatism after a lifetime spent in pursuit of money. It was the definitive waste of our brief time on earth.

For my mother, work was an extraordinary series of tasks that began at down and ended, often, after midnight. There was lighting the fire, milking the cows, feeding the calves, baking bread, preparing dinner, washing clothes, making tea, knitting jumpers, darning socks, planting vegetables, pruning flowers, visiting the sick, attending funerals, going to Mass, selling livestock, buying hens, painting, cooking, cleaning, shopping, caring, helping, loving, talking, thinking… This list is not exhaustive, but it is exhausting. Not that she ever used the word. “I’m tired,” she would sometimes say. “I’m exhausted”, never.

Our next station in this series of 14 photographs is Food.


Halloween

Saturday, 31 October, 2015 0 Comments

Last autumn, the flames of our bonfire burned brightly at twilight. Sparks flew high into the indigo sky and merged with falling stars. We tossed fire into the face of winter and sprinkled ourselves with holy water afterwards.

Halloween


Those articulate scones

Wednesday, 28 October, 2015 0 Comments

The scones

No photograph nor no text can convey the warmth of what came out of that oven. Yes, the baking was all about converting ingredients — flour, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, butter, raisins — into food, but there was something else going on. Maybe “improvised tradition” is near the mark as each batch was different. No slavish adherence to a recipe handed down the ages, here. Creativity was at play. A pinch of this and a fistful of that altered the balance each time the scones were made.

When they were placed on the old wire trays, almost too hot to handle, the first tasting took place. It was all very far from what takes place when wine connoisseurs get together, but there were similarities. The aroma, with its remembrances of things past; the initial impact of legacy on the tongue; the lingering aftertaste of love crafted into nourishment.

“How does it taste?” The question deserved far more than the prosaic “fine” and “good” that were usually offered, but poetry was beyond us. The scones were more articulate.


Grief is just love with no home

Sunday, 11 October, 2015 0 Comments

Mammy and Daddy

“Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.”

Stephen Dobyns


New Year beside the fire

Tuesday, 1 January, 2013 0 Comments

Didn’t go out last night. Didn’t take part in any public celebrations or attend any display of fireworks. We just sat beside the fire, chatting and drinking glasses of Hennessy mixed with Baileys. And then to bed. The great thing about going to bed early on New Year’s Eve is that one gets up on New Year’s Day relatively un-hungover and filled with energy, ready to start the year on the right foot.

The home fire burning


Family photo taken by my mother in 1948

Sunday, 8 January, 2012

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it […]

Continue Reading »

Homeward bound

Sunday, 18 December, 2011 0 Comments

Homeward in the setting sun

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.” Amelia Earhart