Friday, 25 August 2017

Claiming my history by Anne Booth

As I wrote in a previous blog post, on the 30th June this year my lovely Irish dad died, and now it is the 25th August and things are just beginning to sink in and the grief is hitting. So many things need doing and sorting out after a death, and one of the things I got mixed up with was remembering  my blog post was due on the 21st - apologies. For some reason I thought I was doing the 25th - which is normally Sue Purkiss - so here I am, as Sue kindly noticed I had forgotten my post and offered to swop. Thank you, Sue.

I am realising that this huge difference in my world has also shifted things in my writing, and this end of a chapter in my life also seems to be a beginning. I find myself wanting to read more about Ireland and connect with it, now, in 2017, on my own behalf. I miss my parents' Irish voices and their stories linking me to my family history, and I can no longer ask them about it. So I have been reading more about Irish history myself - reading history books but also watching YouTube videos and old American films about Ireland like this one from 1934. It has a particularly idealised view of Ireland.

Yesterday I watched an Irish documentary made in 1967 about Connemara, where my mother was from. It was broadcast when I was 3 and my mum and dad were younger than I am now - 38 and 41.  I noticed a complete glossing over of incidents happening the centre before, which  I had read about in a history book and which my mother had never mentioned. I don't know now if she didn't mention it because she didn't know about a fairly local conflict which had taken place the previous century, or if she just didn't think it was a good thing to talk about. I can't quite believe that she wouldn't have told me, as she was a great story teller, and this is a great story, so I have a strange excitement in finding something out myself about Irish history which my parents didn't tell me, and a yearning to know more. I wonder if my mother, growing up in 1930s Ireland, was not told history she needed to know, and if this affected her in future life, and also how this has affected future generations.  In a way, I feel my Irish heritage and the stories I need to know to fully understand where I come from, has been censored, and there is an excitement in finding out more and uncovering an alternative , fascinating history.

My parents, who came to England in the 1950s, were the custodians of Ireland for me who was born, the youngest of four, in England, in new town Hemel Hempstead, in 1965.  I have never lived in Ireland, although all through my childhood my dad was planning to move back. Every Saturday afternoon he would come back from his work on the building site and, after saying the rosary, have a short nap in bed, his pools coupon under his pillow. He hoped every week that he would get up, switch on the football  results and find that he had won the pools. Every Saturday he would tell me that we were going back to Ireland and that we would have a dog. Then I would go back down to my mum and tell her and she would roll her eyes. 'What have we to go back to?' she would say. They emigrated because there was no work, and if they returned she feared - perhaps rightly - that there would be no work.

I am going to watch this documentary, made in 2009, published on YouTube 2016. I imagine that it will not be the censored idealised view of Ireland of the earlier documentaries and will reflect a different , sadder, reality.

We never went back to live in Ireland, although we had many wonderful holidays there, and I had to wait until I was 40 before I got a dog. I never thought less of my dad for his broken Saturday promises - it was more a wonderful weekly fairy tale he told, a dream we both knew could not come true but which we loved to talk about.  Ireland has therefore been for me a magical place - a location of longing, somewhere we went to on holiday, and the place of all the stories of my own parents' childhood. This is not the whole story. I feel that  now I want to go to Ireland and hear the stories of other Irish people and of other eras - I want to re connect with my parents' childhood and find out what my parents were taught about their history - but also what they were NOT taught about their history. I also want to know more about what young Irish are being taught now too. I would love to be able to give them new stories, or uncover old, hidden Irish history, (which, I am beginning to realise more fully and more deeply, is also my history), and re-present them, to Irish and British children and adults.  I feel so sad about my parents not being here, and my heart aches to hear their voices, but also I feel I have permission now to claim my own Irishness without threatening their definition of it, and this seems to me to be very hopeful.

I want to go back to the time of my grandparents and great grandparents, and also move forward, learning about modern Ireland. I am going to go to Connemara with my husband in September for 4 nights. My mum's birthday was on the 3rd September  and my dad loved Connemara very much, so I want to spend my mother's birthday there and think of them both, and visit my family's gravestones and connect to the place on my own behalf.

Here is a video of the island my mum was from, which I found on the website of some holiday cottages Three years ago I stayed in one of these cottages - and it was so lovely connecting up with Geraldine, the owner, who I played with every Irish holiday. I think you will get an idea of why I want to go back!

Lastly - in reconnecting with Irish history I really enjoyed and recommend 'Name Upon Name' by Sheena Wilkinson.

1 comment:

Sue Purkiss said...

It looks like a beautiful place. Enjoy your time there!