To have lived among the women in my family is to have learned

Family Fortunes: When Isabelle visits Pauline she knows wonders are in store

Three generations of Irish women: Laura, Isabelle and Pauline

Three generations of Irish women: Laura, Isabelle and Pauline

 

Isabelle is 1½, Pauline is 70 (and a half), they are undoubtedly the most loved members of our family and they like to hang out together.

When Isabelle comes to see Pauline she knows that wonders are in store, the magic of the big back garden, the strange language granny speaks sometimes – “ná bí ag caoineadh, leanbh beag” – and the guarantee of lots of hugs.

To watch them together is to see love in its purest form understood by both. Pauline knows that the world can be hard, she lost her own mother while still only a child – but only ever sees it as beautiful; showing Isabelle the wonders all around and creating a secret code that nobody else can crack.

There is the devilment of a child in both of them yet also the wisdom of a sage.

Language can take many forms and the “potachan” somehow understands Pauline on a level which transcends words, tenses and grammar.

The days spent together are always too short as Isabelle must return with Mum and Dad to Co Kerry, already looking forward to her next trip to see granny.

Ball of wonder

The photos of the little rascal become more commonplace on each returning visit home, the next generation in a line of strong women in our family, borne of the soil of Donegal and spread like seeds through the four provinces.

There is Nora who taught the children of Inishsirrer Island in the 1930s (population 34 – 1936 census) and died far too young before we came along.

There is Pauline of Ardsbeg who left for London at 18 and worked tirelessly to raise three children in the recession of the 1980s.

There is Laura of Kilkenny (mother of Isabelle) who clawed her way through the financial crisis, working any job she could find and doing whatever it took but always smiling and thinking of the rest of us.

And there is Isabelle of Kerry, a ball of wonder and light with the dreams of the future ahead of her and the possibility of anything in her grasp.

I’m not sure if any of them would like to be labelled as feminists but gender was never considered an inhibitor in our house – a person is a person and you treat everyone the same.

One Coyle, one Greene, one Keating, one Kelly – all bound together by traits of common decency, hard work and a genuine interest in others. To have lived among them is to have learned.

– Donal Keating (grandson of Nora, son of Pauline, brother of Laura, uncle of Isabelle)

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