The Home Place: The rhythm of life - Moya Doherty
It was always a bit of a puzzle to me, this ‘being Irish’ thing
Illustration: Mark McColgan
It was always a bit of a puzzle to me, this “being Irish” thing. I never really knew what it meant. If you grew up in a Border town in the 1950s and 1960s, as I did, you had a particular lilt to your language and a particular list to your thinking.
Pettigo, Co Donegal. The main street: Britton’s pub, the Custom House. Ms Bishop, the Protestant music teacher. Mr and Mrs Snow across the road who sold their religious artefacts in a stall by Lough Derg. The Tamlaght road with the milk churns. The post office where my mother bought me my first green-white-and-gold apron to help with the housework. Dust under the beds, lino on the floor, a hand-rotated dryer, the well at the end of the garden, the chipped crockery set for the Crolly doll’s dinner.
Reid’s sweet shop, a skip and a hop away from our rented lodgings. The old red-leatherette-seated yellow Volkswagen Beetle. The Silver Cross pram where the next baby sat, strapped in under the milky spring sunshine. The Cardinal Red-polished front step.
The rhythm of life in a Border town. Once a Border-town girl, forever on the border. The border of life.
The trips to Enniskillen – the first one home from Erne Hospital, the third girl of the two school teachers. The clattering as I wore my mother’s white patent-leather high heels, clip-clopping along the Ballyshannon hospital floor, visiting the next newborn sibling.
The sweet sound of the Irish language. The rhythm of the walk, the rhythm of the talk.
Across the bog, much further west, Granny on the doorstep, fleshy arms folded – skin the gloss of aluminium foil; thick-tongued, broken English spoken.
Uncle Connie in the shoe shop selling only the farm workboot or the black wellington or the sturdy brogues for the country woman. No truck with style. Brown paper and string, the boxes of leather-smelling Clarks shoes stacked high, the Irish Press crossword, the hatch into the kitchen to hear Granny call her bachelor son to dinner at 1pm.
The rhythm of leaving. The rhythm of losing.
The Sunday trips to Cloghbolie to Grand-Uncle Dan. A streally countryman who never left the house he was born into. Gable end to the sea, front facing the road. The Sunday cooking steaming from the range in Granny’s kitchen. Soda bread wrapped in a tea towel, bacon and cabbage, spuds, sweet apple pie, parsnips and carrots. A mackerel. A week’s sustenance for Dan the stammerer, Dan the loner, Dan the bachelor. Dan, whose brothers and sisters – all but Granny Bridget – headed north to Scotland, east to London, Chichester and beyond.
Across the street from Mulhern’s Corner Bar in Dungloe, the Doherty clan, returned immigrants. Back from the Depression in New York to run a small business and rear a family, leaving behind the many sisters and brothers to settle forever in the Bronx, Brooklyn and beyond. The rhythm of the home place beckoned.
The first journey at seven years of age from Donegal to Dublin.
The melting into a big city. That first bus ride to the heart of the city: Nelson’s Pillar, Clerys’ clock, Guineys, Mac Liammóir in the Gate, McAnally in the Abbey. Poetry in the classroom, music lessons.