By Cait Coffey
District director: Pat Kavanagh / Editor: Eamonn O’Reilly
My life began on a small farm in the countryside, in the Gaeltacht, in a boggy area and not too far from the seaside.
Our house was no mansion but in it lived my parents, two brothers, one sister and myself, plus three grandparents – my father’s parents and my mother’s mother. I have no memory of my fathers’ father as he died when I was very young, but I have vivid memories of both grandmothers – known to us as ‘Nan in the room’ and ‘Nan in the loft’.
‘Nan in the room’ had to be accommodated downstairs as she was blind. She was a very quiet gentle lady who loved the Irish language. She stayed in bed until evening time, when all the chores of the day were done, and Mom and Dad would link her down to the fireside. She liked a smoke of the pipe. My Dad would fill his pipe and would ask her “Do you want a pull of the duidín?” She seldom refused!
“Nan in the room” died in our house and the wake was held at home. My brothers and I were delighted – great excitement around the place with people coming and going. I must have got out of hand because I was sent to stay with our neighbours at Currans house until the funeral was gone. I remember standing at Currans gate counting the cars. Then I went home with my two brothers.
There was a barrel of porter got for the wake and it was still in the ‘linny’ – which was an outhouse. One brother wanted to sample the porter so he turned on the tap. The porter flowed, he tasted it and when it came to turning it off he wasn’t able to manoeuver the tap. He put his ‘pus’ under the tap and kept slugging the porter. Eventually the other brother managed to stop the flow. At that stage the drinking brother was very drunk. I witnessed the whole thing so he cannot deny it! When my father came home he found a very sick boy vomiting his guts out and he coaxed the story out of me. He declared it was the best lesson my brother would ever learn – that the boy would never taste drink again … poor Dad, that theory was proven wrong many a time!
The other Nan – the lady ‘in the loft’ – seldom came down the stairs so we used her as a bodyguard! Whenever we misbehaved and Mother would chase us to give us a few slaps, we used to run upstairs and jump inside Nan in the bed. Mother couldn’t reach us there and Nan would be telling her what great children we were so we would get away with murder!
What a wonderful life it was growing up on a farm: bringing water from the well; feeding the animals; milking the cow; feeding the hens and pigs. No distractions of phone, television or the internet – just real quality time and looking back now, we were making great memories every day.
Cait Coffey’s MEMORIES of growing up on the farm are evocative of a time and a place that were both so different to our time and place. They are memories that deserve to be in the mix in an age when we are – or at least should be – looking at how we want to constitute society today. Is the dominant consideration always going to be financial? Surely it makes much more sense to have social considerations as pre-eminent? Where cultural values ground us? Where we are motivated by civic concerns? A world that has a room for the spiritual?