Next Wednesday marks a hugely significant event in my family’s life. On Friday – as it was – December 7th 1962 we arrived in Ballaghaderreen. The town remains in recovery.
Yes, our parents and us then six siblings moved centuries in the space of a couple of hours. Yet another of us arrived three years later. He insists on being the only Mayo man among us Rossies.
December 7th, 1962 was such a miserably wet day too, as the anguish of Ballaghaderreen’s “auld stock” transferred itself to the heavens and fell upon us all. But it was a Friday and there is good luck in moving on a Friday.
It was 60 years ago next Wednesday and one of these days we will no longer be “blow-ins” in Ballagh (as locals, and we aspiring locals call the town).
Yes we, those Pakistani families who came to the town in the 1970s; our Syrian and Afghan guests in the Eroc centre there this past couple of years; our more recently arrived Ukrainian friends; and some Romanians, yes, it’s true, all we “blow-ins” are far and away the divine majority in the town today, though we don’t push it. “Auld stock” please note.
Unlike those other blow-ins, we Mullen ex-pats didn’t travel great distances to get to Ballagh. Our journey there was about 15km from a Roscommon townland, (well, more bog than “land” really) near Frenchpark. Nor were we seeking asylum, despite fake news reports to the contrary.
But what we may have lacked in distance-travelled, compared to the thousands of kilometres/miles covered by our Pakistani, Afghan, Syrian, and Ukrainian neighbours, our time-travel distance was – easily – far greater than theirs.
In Mullen we left behind a rural lifestyle that had never changed. The house we lived in there was built in the mid-19th century by my great-grandfather. It had become too small for us, our parents, and our paternal grandfather.
Where our parents were concerned the great attraction of Ballagh, then the education capital of Roscommon, was its schools. And the house, huge and ramshackle, on the Square. It had 15 rooms, one for each letter in Ballaghaderreen. I was awestruck when I discovered this as a small boy.
Ballaghaderreen, from Irish “Bealach a’ Doirin”, for “The Way Through The Little Oak Wood.”