My Irish Heritage

I original posted this last year and have updated and reposted for this year.

Its St. Patrick’s Day and I’m listening to the refrains of “The Field of Athenry” sung by Frank Patterson. I always spare time for quiet celebration, on this the holiest of drinking days, listening to Frank Patterson, Josef Locke, James Galway or John McCormack; the great Irish artists.  Taking another sip of Smithwicks I fondly remember my mother’s and great aunt’s Irish influence on my life.

Survival against the odds, the courage to follow your own path, the determination to never give up, the ability to find solutions where others only see problems and a sense of what’s important in life – these are the characteristics that for over 300 years have made Smithwick’s Ireland’s favourite brewer of ales.

My mother was born 1926 in Waterford, situated in the south east and the oldest city in the Republic of Ireland. Her father had relocated because of employment opportunities in the fisheries. She was christened Catherine O’Dwyer but was known as Kit. At the age of nine, together with her brother John aged five,  she journeyed ten kilometres to Moolum,Kilkenny to live with her Aunt Kate. My mother was always vague on the reasons for transferring households, but there were probably two reasons for this. Her mother’s sister Kate was childless and it helped my mother’s family financially.  She later told me that her childhood in Moolum was the happiest time in her life.

At the age of fourteen she was reunited with her parents and moved to Stepney, London, England.  Her father had found employment as a brick layer in London. It was there she met my father, they married when she was eighteen and raised six children. I was the second eldest.

I grew up under the influence of my mother as she was always around to guide and to scold as the occasion warranted. I attended St. Joseph’s convent school run by the Sisters of Mercy, a religious order founded in Dublin in 1831 by Catherine McAuley (1778-1841). Not to be confused with the ‘Sisters of Mercy’  song written by Leonard Cohen. The nun’s celebrated their Irish heritage. The St. Patrick’s day concert performed by the school was the high light of the year. I would stand in line behind other optimistic children to audition for the role of  choir conductor. I almost made it one year, except I forgot some of the lines to McNamara’s Band and so failed the audition. Much like forgetting my rap lines in my granddaughter’s rap video.https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/lensdiary.blog/48

Every year when school was out my mother would take the six children to Ireland to visit Aunt Kate. Taking the train from London to Fishguard in Wales, the ferry to Rosslare and then a further train to Waterford. Aunt Kate would be waiting for us at Waterford with her ‘assen cart’, a cart pulled by two donkeys, blackman and greyman. Her house in Moolum was small, though the living quarters had been enlarged by converting the forge. My great uncle had been a blacksmith. There was no electricity, no running water and no toilet.  The fire was lit early in the morning and kept going all day, there was no cooking stove. I loved to work the bellows to spark the fire into life. 

Every morning we would walk the half mile to the pump, carrying our buckets, to hold the water. There would be blackberries to pick on the bushes by the road and we would return home with purple fingers and lips. The farmer up on Moolum rock would stop by every morning in his horse and cart to offer me a lift to the creamery in Kilmacow. On the return journey I would  be allowed to ride the horse bareback in the field . When darkness fell an oil lamp and candles were lit. If we needed to do a No.1 we would go to the field, if a No.2 we would retire to the donkey’s shed ensuring that we picked the biggest leaves beforehand, for hygiene’s sake.

I would accompany Aunt Kate on her bread rounds twice a week. Aunt Kate was known as the ‘Bread Woman’, or ‘Egg Woman’ to neighbours who primarily bought eggs from her or sold them to her. She received her bread supplies from Harney’s bakery in the village of Kilmacow and would take the assen cart to deliver these supplies to her customers the same day each week no matter the weather. Before my time the Moolum house was a ‘safe house’ for IRA members. Though as Aunt Kate often related, she never held with violence, but she would not turn away anyone in trouble. In 2006, on the 90th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, there was a reunion in Kilmacow of past Republicans and my mother was asked to lay an official wreath on Aunt Kate’s grave. I had never realized that Aunt Kate had been so famous an activist for the Cause.

My mother moved back to that house in Moolum in 1991 when she was 65 and I visited her every year, only occasionally going back to visit England. I went to Ireland in March of 2016 for my mother’s 90th birthday and we celebrated her life in traditional Irish fashion and had a great time. Two months later I went back to Ireland for my mother’s funeral and we celebrated her life in traditional Irish fashion and had a great time. My heart has always been divided between Ireland and England despite my cockney accent. A mother’s influence is a powerful thing.

Song For Ireland

Walking all the day, near tall towers
Where falcons build their nests
Silver winged they fly
They know the call of freedom in their breasts
Saw Black Head against the sky
Where twisted rocks they run down to the sea
Living on your western shore
Saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland
Drinking all the day in old pubs
Where fiddlers love to play
Someone touched the bow
He played a reel
It seemed so fine and gay
Stood on Dingle beach
And cast in wild foam we found Atlantic bass
Living on your western shore
Saw summer sunsets asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland
Talking all the day with true friends
Who try to make you stay
Telling jokes and news
Singing songs to pass the night away
Watched the Galway salmon run
Like silver dancing darting in the sun
Living on your western shore
Saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland
Dreaming in the night I saw a land
Where no man had to fight
Waking in your dawn
I saw you crying in the morning light
Lying where the falcons fly
They twist and turn all in you’er blue sky
Living on your western shore,
Saw summer sunsets asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland

Songwriter: PHIL COLCLOUGH

29 thoughts on “My Irish Heritage

    1. Thank you little sister. We both have the greatest of memories of our times in Ireland. I still remember you,me and mum dancing around the tree in Moolum at 5:00 a.m. Just as the sun was starting to rise. I really miss those times.

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  1. This is great, Len—an informative and happy journey with you into your past and some history I would otherwise have known nothing about. Thank you for sharing it with us. I was fascinated to learn about your aunt who, though she didn’t like violence, wouldn’t turn away people in trouble.
    I dedicate the delicious corned beef and cabbage and Irish soda bread that I consumed last night to your honor.

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  2. I loved hearing about your childhood, Len, and your memories made me smile. I was walking around Portland, Oregon this morning listening to Irish music and watching dance performances. It was wonderful. One day, I hope to get to Ireland and experience the country. 🙂

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