More than bricks and mortar - seven decades of family fun and love
But while traffic never diminished, the leather business did. Hardship followed. Moya returned to teaching and the family trundled on, pawning what they could and running up tabs with kind shopkeepers.
There was talk of moving but my grandmother wouldn’t hear of it, proclaiming her love for every last brick in the house.
The three boys camped together in the attic, an arrangement Derry likens to being in The Waltons – “G’night ma!” – though his sisters remember it as a reign of terror from above.
The lads would bug conversations, tap phone calls and rig pulleys so that “ghosts” frightened anyone climbing the stairs. There would be fights over Jackie magazines and Dell Comics, forbidden clothes would be fished out of padlocked cupboards and you had to guard your breakfast from thieves around the table.
The house overflowed with music. When Anne began dating a naval officer and Barry became a transatlantic pilot, records trickled back from around the world – exclusive new sounds that Ken, a technical whizz, broadcast from the family’s in-house pirate radio station. Combined with the plays staged in the garage, the motorbikes disassembled in the kitchen and the street’s first TV sitting in the livingroom, competition to be the star attraction was fierce. But Séamus and Moya treated all their children as equals, ensuring they funded their own way through university, worked for a living and achieved independence.
Even as the siblings splintered into different counties and countries, churning out grandchildren, the house remained a mooring. To me, Sheanna (a version of “seán ma”) was a tiny woman with big glasses, brimming with advice and affection. “Sheamie”, a selfless soul never without a suit and tie, seemed stooped with the experience of one who had seen it all, forever communicating in snatches of poetry that sounded as old as Ireland.
Whenever new faces appeared at Christmas – “strays” with nowhere to go – I just accepted it without question.
Perhaps I was too preoccupied with seven aunts and uncles’ worth of selection boxes. But in time I realised that people like my father saw the place as an overwhelming madhouse. Bringing a girlfriend over always seemed risky. Still, it was our version of normal.
Now that the end is here, the family is split between those ready to move on and those reluctant to let go. One cousin has named his house “Seafield” in tribute, while others wish they could buy the property, having spent the happiest days of their lives here.
Researching the stories has helped understand why. Sifting through the last of my grandparents’ belongings – the hat he doffed at passers-by, the Red Cross certificate she earned in 1941 – a certain poignancy hangs in the stillness. But then the door swings open.
Relatives stream in. The house grows animated once more, producing laughter and ructions even as the past gets packed away. Maybe, I think, it’s the people rather than the building. Maybe the real life of a house lies elsewhere.