There was a whole pile of us there outside the big church in Youghal. Parents and their children. Many children. I was eight and the eldest. My mother was run ragged from the two younger ones and the baby, I could see it on her face, her tight lips, the notch between her eyebrows that only appeared when she was particularly cross. She rolled her eyes a lot at her sister and her friends, all surrounded by their own children, some crying, some pulling, some just snivelling in anticipation of the hour and a half of torture coming up.
My father was with the menfolk, all off to one side, all smoking Gold Flake and Players. No filters then. You could hardly see the men's heads with all the smoke. I loved to be downwind of this, hearing the strike of the match on the pink sandpaper of the box, the smell of the sulphur, the first expulsion of smoke from my father's mouth. I would breath it in like perfume.
It was an impressive church. About ten wide shallow limestone steps leading up to a large apron in front of the huge main doors which now stood open, waiting for the faithful and the High Mass celebrated at 10 o'clock every Sunday morning.
We had arrived in a series of pony and traps from our rented seaside cottages off to the east of us. Now with that novelty over, all the children were restless.
'Would you hold your brother's hand?' my mother snapped at me. My brother was tumbling cartwheels on the top of the steps. It was a new found skill he had learned on the strand the day before from an older lad. He couldn't stop. One hand down, second hand down, legs in the air wide apart, drop first foot on the ground, then the second, then the hands, he was delighted with himself. He had the envious attention of all the other kids on the top of the steps. Until I raced up and grabbed hold of his hand on one of his downturns and yanked him down the steps and over to my mother. He fought me like the devil, screamed to our mother I was hurting him, I was the meanest sister in the world. Mummy turned on me, told me to: stop whatever I was doing just stop it how was she always telling me to stop it just stop it where was my father he would straighten me out in a hurry.
My oblivious father and his friends carried on smoking, roared laughing, clapped each other on the back chortling about the match they would all be going to on the local hurling pitch later on in the afternoon, their backs to the womenfolk and their childish concerns.
Now as if choreographed, they all crunched their cigarette butts under their brightly polished shoes and doffed their caps and hats as they headed up the steps and into the huge golden cavern of the church.
The mothers struggled and tugged and dragged the pushchairs up the steps of the church, wrangling their other children together in one untidy meandering uncontrollable mess.
At the top of the steps my mother dove into her handbag and threw a bit of black lace on my head.
'There now,” she said, “You're old enough.”
See part 2 here.