“History was never my strongest subject at school. I thought the IRB was the IRA’s second team”

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 14:17

So there ends up being a happy ending to the story of Ronan and the – I still can’t get over how random this name is – but the 1916 Easter Rising?
 
You’ll possibly remember how devastated my son was to discover that his great, great grandfather was the gunner on the ship that shelled the northside of Dublin city centre, causing millions of pounds worth of improvements.
 
He went right into himself. All he would say to me was, “Ine the descendent of a bleaten thraitor, Rosser. I’ve doorty, turdencoat blood in me vayens.”
His mother said he didn’t touch a drink on Paddy’s Day, which should have actually pleased me, given that he’s only 16, but it didn’t, because it was an indication of how much he was hurting inside.
 
It was actually a couple of nights later, when I was watching TV with Sorcha, that an idea hit me like a bolt of lightning. I was like, “Okay, I’m having one of my famous deep-thinking moments here, Sorcha – try not to move.”
We were watching that Who Do You Think You Are? at the time.
 
“If I went back far enough into our family history,” I went, “I’m bound to find someone who Ro would be proud to call his ancestor.”
Sorcha smiled. She was like, “You should spend a few days in the National Library!”
 
I went, “Steady on, Sorcha. That’s crazy talk.”
“Seriously, Ross. Tracing your ancestry is actually an easy thing to do. And the staff are – oh my God  so helpful.”
 
So quite literally the following day, I found myself standing at the counter in the famous National Library, going, “I’d like to trace my geological roots – can you give me a few pointers?”

The bird laughed. I laughed myself – it was mad to think what I was undertaking. Ten minutes later, she had me set up at a computer and she was showing me what was what.

In total, I spent three evenings and two afternoons in there – looking back now, I was like a man possessed – reading and studying and staring at maps and family trees, while at the same time scribbling notes.

I can only imagine how it must have looked.

On Wednesday night, my work was finally done and I rang Ro’s gaff. It was, like, his old dear who answers.

“It’s bleaten ten o’clock at night,” was her opening line. “Ine only arthur fallen asleep and now you’re arthur waking me.”

I swear to God, if you told me I was talking to Brendan O’Carroll in a curly wig and a cardigan, I’d have believed you.

I was there, “Where’s Ro?”

She went, “He’s hee-er.”

I was like, “I’m on my way.”

He was in the back gorden when I arrived, smoking one of his famous rollies, which was as big as Fabien Pelous.

I was like, “Hey, Ro.”

And he was there, “Alreet, Rosser.”

I noticed there was a hum of something as well.

I went, “Is that cannabis?”

He laughed. “Cannabis ,” he went, imitating me. “It’s fooken hash, Rosser.”

“Haaash.”

“No, say it like this – hash.”

“Hash.”

“There you are – you’ve got it now.”

He nodded at my rugby tactics book, which was under my orm. He went, “What’s that, Rosser?”

I was like, “I’ve been spending a bit of time in the National Library, Ro. Now, I don’t want you to stort worrying about me.”

“I’m bound to woody, Rosser. What were you doing in there?”

“Believe it or not, I was checking out our family tree. Look, I know you’re still upset about what your great, great grandfather did during the Easter Rising. I’m still getting a chuckle out of that name, by the way.”

“He blew up Liberty Hall, the doorty-looking doort-boord.”

Ro took a long drag on the – I can’t believe I’m saying this – but joint , then handed it to me.

I was there, “I’ve, er, never actually smoked this shit before.”

“Just take it into you, Rosser, then hoalt it in yisser lungs as long as you cadden.”

Which is what I ended up doing, before coughing my basic guts up.

“Jesus,” I went, handing it back to him, “it’s no wonder they talk so slowly over this side of the city.”

I opened my tactics book at the back, put on a real intellectual face, then went, “Were you aware, Ronan, that there was another big Irish battle – in seventeen something-something.”

He went, “It was 1798, Rosser. The United Irishmen Rebellion.”

“Yeah, no, that’s probably the same one.”

History was never my strongest subject at school. I was the one thought the IRB was the IRA’s second team. That’s a fact.

I handed him a photograph.

He went, “Who’s this sham?”

I was like, “His name was Edward John Kelly. He’s your great, great, great, great, whatever else, grandfather. He stabbed a British soldier to death with a pike at the Battle of Arklow. Which was just beyond Brittas Bay. It’s actually still there. I got my hands on a map. I’m a bit in awe of myself.”

“What happened to him?”

“They hanged him. Well, they called it half hanging ? They tightened a rope around your neck, then loosened it when you became unconscious. Then they woke you and did it again. It was to try to get info.”

“Did he rat addyone out?”

“No. Which is why they then ended up actually hanging him?”

His face lit up.

He went, “He’s a marthur, Rosser. And a heerdo.”

I was like, “I knew you’d be pleased.”

I handed him the full package of documents.

“There’s, like, birth certificates, maps, press cuttings, all sorts of shit in there. He’s buried in Wexford. I was thinking, you know, maybe at the weekend, me and you would take a drive down there and check out his grave.”

But Ronan didn’t say anything. He had his head down. After a second or two, I realised that he was crying. I thought I might tell him not to smoke any more. After a short while, he looked up, wiped his face with his open palm and went, “Thanks, Rosser.”

And he looked at me in a way that I can’t even put into words. I just thought, one of my kids hates me more than anyone else in the world, but the other one – who is, admittedly, high on hash – thinks I’m the greatest father who ever lived.

I think any parent would settle for that.


ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE

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