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Even aged 9, I knew Laika the space dog was not coming back

Family Fortunes: ‘What stars we were! What dreams we had! Our imaginations just had no limits’

Laika, the stray dog from Moscow who was sent to space in November 1957.

Walking home from a wake with my Father in 1957 when I was nine years old, we looked skywards searching among the bright stars for a glimpse of Sputnik. My Father remarked how “everything passes” and then we saw a lightning strike; a falling star.

‘There you are,” he said, “another soul gone to heaven.” I asked for the second time, “But how are the Russians going to get the dog down?” Skipping beside him; my arm linked through his, I did not get an answer, and those two words “everything passes” made me dreadfully sad and disturbed for I knew too that the dog; Laika, was not going to be brought back.

Back home in the warm kitchen, Mother poured tea, and Grandmother filled hot water bottles from the boiler on the range.

It was a time before television and during winter we played cards a lot, my sister, a year younger than me, and our younger brother John. A game of Beggar my Neighbour could go on forever, for invariably we would sometimes cheat to prolong the game, when little brother John would be losing, one of us would feel sorry for him and sneak him a knave under the table and it usually ended when one of us would be taken over by a fit of giggling.

Of course it was more fun when Father played or when our friend Bernard came. Then there was our friend Agnes who lived in Dublin, who came to visit her Aunt Lizzie down the road for school holidays.

She taught us Dublin street rhymes and we amused ourselves by putting on our very own concert; the kitchen our theatre. We entered from the stairs behind the partition wall, after being given a stupendous introduction by the previous performer. For example; “And now we have – Agnes all the way from Dublin – who will sing for you I Saw Three Ships.”

My party piece was The Homes of Donegal. Centre stage was in front of the dresser, we did our reels and jigs and bowed to the Stanley No. 7 range. (We had no audience.) Each of us took turns performing. What stars we were! What dreams we had! for our imaginations had no limits.

(The ‘Sputnik’ satellites were launched in October and November 1957 by the Russians.)