L J Sexton
WE ALL have our own special memories of going to Ireland on our summer holidays. For some it’s returning home, for others you’re going as second or third generation to the land your parents/grandparents came from. I always enjoy the build-up—it’s like waiting for Christmas, the anticipation of seeing all your family, buying new clothes in preparation, having your sandwiches and flask of tea on the boat. The thrill of landing in Larne or Belfast. The change in the road signs as you pass through Derry knowing you’re not a million miles away from the narrow twisting country roads with their lumps and bumps, flanked by miles and miles of shamrock infested green fields. It’s the soothing scent of burning turf as it floats from chimney stacks up nasal cavities and settles there, bathing deep in the recesses of your mind—conjuring all kinds of memories—it’s the smell of ‘home.’
It’s the niceties about Ireland that we don’t get here in Glasgow; such as the friendly nod and lifted finger off the steering wheel as a driver passes by. It’s the unapologetic boldness country drivers have towards one another, particularly when they’re in the middle of town. You know the kind —yer man there with his arm leaning out the
window, chatting like the world has stopped for a tea break to some other bucko that’s jumped from his tractor and parked in the middle of the road. This simply wouldn’t happen in Glasgow. Jesus if your car stalls for more than ten seconds in the middle of town you have half the road honking their horns and randomers giving you the V sign.
It is the familiarity of the Irish that’s sooo adorable. Like when someone walks past you in the street and says: “How are ye?” and nods their head or winks, or when someone says: “What’s the craic?” or “Welcome home.” This is a safe bet that you’ve been spotted on the road in, but you know that old saying in Ireland, God sees everything, but the neighbours miss nothing! It’s the local town festivals and fleadhs, it’s the Taytos and the Football Special, the spuds with the skins on them and the Barry’s Tea. It’s the Brunch ice-cream lollies and the Cadbury’s Tiffin or Caramello bars. It’s the craic and the aul chat and all those things that make Ireland and it’s people so special, so unique and so different from Glasgow.
I have a great memory and can remember the most intimate of details from my childhood and teenage holidays in Ireland. There was a trip over in the early 1980s with my sister Joanne and two cousins, Paul and Sean Sexton. We were sent to stay with Auntie Margaret and Uncle Anton Rodgers in Ranafast—pronounced Ranafashta in the Gaeltacht. To paint you a vivid picture, back then their beautiful home, a bungalow—before it was converted—housed nine people, Auntie Margaret, Uncle Anton, six boys and one girl. And every summer ten students moved in while they learned Gaelic at Ranafast college. And then there was us, the four weegie weans. That made 23 in total and I can say without doubt or a moment’s hesitation that my Auntie Margaret ran that house like a well-oiled machine. It was all hands on deck and everyone did their bit to ensure the family and the students were fed and watered four times a day—breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. We may have been visitors, but we too were quickly roped in to help with the domestic duties alongside our cousins. Paul and Sean were over to help Uncle Anton with the turf. Now I’m no expert, but what two trendy teenage boys from Sighthill, with their fancy gear, footballer haircuts and poser belts knew about working the turf, I’d say I could write on the tip of my finger. But would you believe it, in no time at all Uncle Anton had them footing, turning, bagging and dragging turf like they were two homegrown boys. I wish I could say I had fond memories of working the turf but it’s back breaking work
altogether and the midges are brutal, they’d eat you alive, literally. Some may call this child labour but in Uncle Anton’s mind it was character building. “Won’t do you a bit of harm,” he’d say.
Joanne and I were young, too young to be out galavantin’, but we had our older cousin guardians and a more mature neighbour, a guy I shall never forget because his name epitomised his nature, ‘Gerry Cuddles Harley,’ who kindly volunteered to chaperone us for the evening. We were allowed out for one night to attend the Mary From Dungloe Festival and I remember it like it was yesterday, walking into that huge marquee like it was the ballroom of romance. The boys on one side, the girls on the other. I think it’s safe say that I did NOT make my debut in the Dungloe marquee that night. I still had the tomboy haircut, the Adidas Kick trainers and no curves to speak of at that point. I failed to make an impression on anyone.
I find most Irish people are inherently funny and half the time they don’t even know it, which makes them even funnier. I love all Irish accents and imitating them too; which has gotten me into a spot of bother over the years when I’ve played practical jokes on people. The Donegal Gaeltacht accent is a personal favourite. It’s as slow as snails, like Daniel O’Donnell on diazepam. Like every word is being held hostage and they don’t want to part with it. For all Auntie Margaret is a Longford Lass with a high pitched fast-paced speech pattern, her other half, Uncle Anton—God rest him—had the slowest most comforting voice I ever heard. One day I was out watching Auntie Margaret feeding the chickens, which she did with great gusto. She was chucking the feed out rapid style as the hens chook chooked at her feet.
“Here chook chook chook. Here chook chook chook. Here chook chook chook!” she’d repeat over and over again. Then out of nowhere Uncle Anton interrupted, as dry as the devil and as slow as molasses: “I think the chickens get the picture Margaret.” I nearly fell off the wall laughing. He was an unconsciously funny man.
His linguistic style captivated me and I could’ve listened to him all day like he was reading me poetry, and he passed his hypnotic voice on to his sons who are all brilliantly talented singers and musicians, The Clann Mhic Ruairi. No shock really as they were steeped in song and music and all played in the Ranafast Band. Dónall Mac Ruairí was named Radio Presenter/Personality of the Year for his popular programme Cóisir Cheoil on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, whilst sibling Eamon launched an album of his own, Too Many Tunes, Too Little Time. I have nothing but admiration and respect for my cousins and I have looked up to them my whole life.
On the subject of Ranafast I heard a funny story from a fellow St Roch’s mammy one Tuesday night. Me, Cathleen Armstrong—Nellie from Annagry—and my buddy Noreen Downes, whose father, Padraig Gallagher is also from Ranafast stood in the corridor whilst Frank McArdle taught our kids. We always had great craic and shared funny stories, but this night Cathleen told Noreen and I the most hilarious true story we ever heard about two aul dolls from Ranafast sitting either side of the coffin at a wake discussing the forthcoming St Patricks Night Dance. Their
conversation went something like this:
NB. MUST BE SAID IN A VERY SLOW RANAFAST DRAWL.
“Maggie, did ye get somethin ti wear fir the St. Patarich’s night dansh?”
“Aw now Biddie I did. Sure didn’t I go up to Letterkenny to Dunness Shtores.”
“Ishn’t that great. An’ what did ye get Maggie?’
“Well, I got meself a bloushe.”
“An what colour is the bloushe Maggie?”
“It’s a sortova beigey sateen Biddie.”
“An did ye get anything to wear with the bloushe?”
“I did. I got a shkirt, and it has a shplit up the shides—here an here.”
“An what colour is the shkirt Maggie?”
“It’s a sortova dunkey brown.”
Cathleen’s ‘shkirt and bloushe’ story had us laughing so hard and loud that Frank came out and roared at us to keep the noise down and ordered us from the corridor. To this day I can’t say the word SATIN, I have to say ‘SATEEN’ and I laugh every time!
Whatever you do—coinnigh ag baint sult as an gcraic! (Keep enjoying the craic)
L J Sexton, mum of four, returned to university to pursue her passion for the written word. She achieved her Honours Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and hasn’t stopped writing since. Lyn is born of Irish parents and lived in Donegal for eight years. She is also the press officer for Irish Minstrels CCÉ music group based in St Roch’s Secondary School
PIC: JOSEPH MISCHYSHYN
L J Sexton