An Irish Gaeltacht summer: My first kiss, made all the sweeter by Maybelline Kissing Potion

It's another year of missing out on a rite of passage for my children. I’ve such fond memories

I Kiss Deliciously: a 1981 advert for Maybelline Kissing Potion

I Kiss Deliciously: a 1981 advert for Maybelline Kissing Potion

 

Originally from Sligo, Marie-Therese Keegan lives in London with her husband, Don, and teenage children, Amber and Sawyer. She works with Age UK Richmond, helping older people to “love later life”. This often involves encouraging them to revisit happy memories, something she does in her own writing. With 2021 being another no-go for teenagers in the Gaeltachtaí, they will miss out on more than Irish lessons, she says. She remembers her days there affectionately

I was given a choice that summer of 1981. The Gaeltacht or the diocesan pilgrimage. There were pros and cons with both, and I weighed them up carefully. In the end it came down to modesty. There was no way to dodge the public submersion in the Lourdes baths. I’d heard of the tiny apron that scarcely covered one buttock. So off to Connemara I would go.

Some details are sharp, others I can surmise. I must have been driven to Coláiste Chiaráin by my parents. A journey of 150km in a bronze metallic Vauxhall Chevette, the car they had through my teens. I’d have been a little apprehensive but mostly excited at facing time away from chores and parental scrutiny. The guest house was bland and modern and nothing like the thatched cottage I had in mind for my stay.

I remember feeling humiliated the night Kevin ran his thumb down my back and I wasn’t quick enough to arch. He knew then that I still wore a vest

I don’t remember much about the village, though I can clearly picture the chemist in An Cheathrú Rua, where I spent most of my pocket money on barley twists, hair slides and postcards. It sold Maybelline bubblegum-flavour Kissing Potion, a lip gloss applied with a wand. It was flying off the shelves. I bought a tube for my own gratification. I loved the taste when I licked my lips. I remember being hungry all of the time. The gloss dulled the pangs. I carried it around in my pocket. The cooler girls had their menthol smokes.

Our Bean an tí served up mean meals. Beans on a slice of toast with a glass of MiWadi diluted to the palest orange tint. And, for dessert, one chocolate Swiss roll between 12 of us, a wafer-thin slice each. We were squashed into the dining room and sat elbow to elbow on benches.

I Kiss Deliciously: an advert for Maybelline Kissing Potion
I Kiss Deliciously: a 1981 advert for Maybelline Kissing Potion

We slept four to a room. I was in a bottom bunk. I had just started to shave my underarms and was appalled by the ginger tufts poking out under our cúntóir’s arms. Had she no shame?

Mornings were for lessons, enriching vocabulary for those who could already speak Irish and baffling further those of us who struggled. I remember later, at sports, the dread in my stomach as I stood in a line for basketball-team selection, still standing until there were two of us remaining – “Ceann duinn agus ceann ar do shon”, or One for us and one for you. In the late afternoons, endless slow walking as we were herded down sandy boreens to silver strands.

On his last night in Connemara Kevin whispered in my ear as béarla. He asked if I’d go with him. He didn’t mean outside or back home with him to Midleton. I said I would, delighted

And I remember Kevin. With his warm brown eyes and skin that tanned easily. He stayed in a boys’ house up on Bothar Bui. They didn’t attend our lessons and were at a different Irish college, one not large or diverse enough – they were all boys – to support their own céilí. Instead they joined ours. Their teachers coerced them into asking girls to dance. I partnered Kevin one night and then every night after. Neither of us was an Irish scholar, so there was little chat between us, just awkward smiles and an understanding that we’d clasp hands once the music started and not a moment before.

I remember feeling humiliated the night he ran his thumb down my back and I wasn’t quick enough to arch. He knew then that I still wore a vest. I didn’t expect to be asked to dance the next day, but he wasn’t deterred by my bralessness. The “back swipe” was a thing that summer.

Gaeltacht gift: somehow the necklace has survived
Gaeltacht gift: somehow the necklace has survived

On his last night in Connemara, over the din of Amhrán na bhFiann, he whispered in my ear as béarla. He asked me if I’d go with him. He didn’t mean outside or back home with him to Midleton. I said I would, delighted at his redundant offer. It meant nothing yet was more than enough. He took out of his pocket a necklace, an oval plastic pendant depicting two horses’ heads on a simple silver chain. Why horses I’ll never know. I’m guessing stock was limited at the chemist’s. He fastened it around my neck and planted a kiss – my first – on my bubblegum pout. I don’t recall any other moment with him afterwards, no long goodbyes or penpal promise.

Yet somehow, 40 years later, the necklace has survived. It sits in my London home, in a drawer with memorial cards and euro. A reminder of innocent days.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

Missing out: Marie-Therese Keegan with her husband, Don West, and their children, Sawyer and Amber West
Missing out: Marie-Therese Keegan with her husband, Don West, and their children, Sawyer and Amber West
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.