We would watch our mother pack our case ready for the two week summer holidays in Co Donegal. The excitement was almost bubbling within, awaiting the train and boat, then the Irish farmhouse with its old flag flooring and small windows, butter churn sitting in the corner and, the most memorable of memories, the sweet smell of peat in the air, a definite reminder that we were in Mom’s homeland.
The Irish faces always had a genuine smile and an authentic welcome that made me bubble with a warmth and joy that I tried to hide, as coming from Birmingham where nobody talked and when they did it was not a kind loving way that I found when in rural Donegal. The accent was soft and a gentleness tinged with a little melancholy would make you feel at ease and a wanting to stay in the company.
I would walk around the old farmhouse where Mom grew up and hungrily take in the surroundings of where fourteen children would have played, all siblings of Mom. These were the happiest days of my life, she would recount, and we had no shoes on our feet. I knew Mom never really fitted in our city in the UK where it was dog-eat-dog, not the easy going way of life she had known. I felt sad for her throughout her life as Dad was a brummy and little did I know that her mother had cried for two weeks after her marrying him, due to the callous history and famine the Irish race endured, Granny knowing the stories of what had gone before her. But she grew to love him as he would take us there every summer.
Dad had been in the second World War and unbeknownst at the time was suffering post traumatic stress, which caused him to drink and sometimes become not the man before drinking alcohol, but that is another story. They’re all now lying in rest in the local graveyard in the town, only one aunty left.
Rose was a teacher and a nun and was the pride of the family but is now in a home with dementia aged 93. On the Sunday we would all pile into my uncle Paddy’s van and go to Mass. It was women on one side and men on the other and was a packed church. There were many characters in the 60s whose innocence stood out to me at seven years of age, living simply without the trinkets that are supposed to fulfil our emptiness nowadays, and how I yearn for those sweet, uncomplicated days.