Friday, January 30, 2009
Tomorrow is my mother's birthday. January 31st. She was born in 1914. WW1 had just started.
Through her growing up years in the village of Castlemartyr in Co. Cork, a stronghold of Irish republicanism, the Black and Tans were a highly visible presence in the town, intimidating the townspeople, shooting first and asking questions later. As a small child, she lived in terror of their miasmic presence, they marched freely into private homes, businesses, churches and schools, searching for weapons and wilfully destroying the poverty-stricken hovels of the locals.
The effects of the Great Famine of the 1840s were still being felt in the town. The population had shrunk substantially and her father, who still spoke the Irish language and carried the sean-nos style of singing and story telling in his soul (for all who had suffered and died, as he frequently said) would meet quietly and inobstrusively with others who fought for Irish freedom.
She was only 6 years old when the barracks, situated about 1/4 mile from her house, was blown up.
She was only 12 years old when she was put 'into service' in the merchant family of the town as a type of maid, taking care of the children and helping the mistress of the house.
She was only 18 years old when her mathematical ability was recognised by a priest friend of one of the leading merchants of the large town close by and she was trained as a bookkeeper and worked in the accounts office and lived, as was common then, in the dormitory over the shop with the rest of the staff.
She joined the Gaelic League and found encouragement in performing locally with her remarkable soprano vocal talent. Her passion for Ireland and her condemnation of what the English had inflicted for centuries put a lasting fire in her remarkable green eyes. She never did see, as a complete dichotomy to this, her lifelong passion for the works of Charles Dickens.
I'm putting together a memoir for my family of this quite extraordinary woman who saw a uniqueness in all six of her children and fostered a thirst for knowledge and appreciation for arts and culture in each of them.
She died far too young, far too unfulfilled. She will never be forgotten.
Happy birthday, dearest mother.