In a word . . . Mary

 

One of my favourite sisters has a significant birthday tomorrow. I have two favourite sisters. Well, I only have two sisters and I’m a coward. Both are outstanding women in their own fields, which do not involve agriculture. Both are strong women who have achieved a lot in their still (very) young lives.

Both have two sons and one daughter and, let’s face it, in each instance both daughters are worth the two sons put together. That is the culture in our family. Girls – good, boys – useless!

It is a tradition of course. As any Irish father would tell you, sons are a pain in the ass. Daughters, on the other hand, are simply wonder-full. It certainly was my late father’s view. He had great time for his girls.

Meanwhile we his sons, myself included, belonged to the pained category of “what cannot be cured must be endured”. An old story, Irish fathers and Irish sons. What can you say? It might explain why, perhaps, I was always attracted to Synge’s drama The Playboy of the Western World.

In younger days it was an ambition of mine to be a playboy, though it would have been more the Hugh Hefner variety than that young man in Synge’s play who boasted of killing his father only for that to be (spoiler alert) exposed later as a sham.

As with so many Irish fathers, mine also believed his sons would come to nothing whereas his two daughters had wings and would soar. They were angelic. And they are, “. . . when the wind is southerly”, to quote Hamlet.

My beloved sister whose birthday happens tomorrow is Mary, known also in the family as Moll. There is a zero involved with her new age which I dare not wed here to that other digit had I either the will or the courage.

Zero is a wonderful concept, brought to us by the Moors when they invaded Spain in medieval times. Before then there was no western symbol for nothing.

Now we have two: that great big 0, and me, to signify the vacant space suddenly available should I reveal my beloved sister’s age from tomorrow.

Happy birthday Moll.

Mary, from Old English Maria. Marie, from Latin Maria, Greek Mariam, Maria, Aramaic Maryam, Hebrew Miryam, sister of Moses. Of unknown origin, said to mean “rebellion”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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