My ma comes from Dublin. For years I was raised as an Irish Catholic with minimal historical references or interferences from my father’s side. When I’m told, you don’t sound like you’re from New York, I explain, my ma’s from Dublin and she corrected my native pronouncements - if I sounded like my father who’s from Brooklyn – I was corrected.
When I’d bring my friends over and they met ma they’d ask her about Ireland. When I was young, the questions revolved around dancing leprechauns, thick pots of gold and the elusive four leaf clover. For the record, these are the general interests that still lead some tourists to the emerald isle.
My childhood was different, I took Irish step dancing and to this day know to hold the sides of my pants, and to synch my steps in silence, kick out and in and one two three four…I was taught by Gerry Mulgahill, one of the country’ s best Irish step dancing teachers in a church basement in Kings Park. I wanted to play hurtling and Irish football. We were raised to be proud of our heritage, even getting into flights with the O’Brien’s who swore they were more Irish then we were cause their Dad was Irish. Yeah, good luck getting an Irish passport your ignorant twits, both of your parents were born here. I still have some hostility!
Looking back at pictures my cousin Colleen posted on Facebook, we appeared like thin rashers in rags, but that’s the way it was in our neighborhood, the kids cared little about the name tags and stayed out till dark playing sports on the street, fighting and building forts. If my uncles came over, they always wanted to know – not what grades I got or sports I played, but the fights I got into. “Tell us about your last fight Mick.” I’d go into detail with the last fight and share the blood and gore and hear the encouraging words, “Way to go Mick.”
I’ve been to Ireland four times in my life. One of the first was when we made an emergency landing in Cork, it was scary, seeing my Ma and my Aunt Betty whispering prayers, grabbing my hand and the stewardess’ making an announcement to keep our heads as down low as much as possible. For the record, the reason why they’d tell you to keep your heads low so they don’t fly off your spine when you make impact at couple of hundred miles an hour. Your hips are being held down, that loose head of yours can make a nice projectile.
On one trip my granda took me to the zoo, it started raining and he wrapped me under his coat, his warm body and the scent that I slept next to each night was soothing. That’s right, I slept next to my granda who’d have to get up each night and pee in a plastic bucket that he kept under the bed. A steady stream would sound like a drum roll. The last trip was when I visited my grandmother, just after high school. When I arrived at the airport, I was given a lift into the city by some airport workers who got off their shift, just because the Irish are known for being out going and pleasant, no other reason and of course they asked if I wanted to hit the pub.
“Let him see his grand,” one said and I was left at the bus depot and found the number 8.
When stepping into the house in Kimmage, I remembered the scent of burning black bricks of peat in the small fireplace in the living room, the tight quarters and to imagine this house held 8 children at one time. Grand made me a tea and toast and we caught up on the family and how happy she was that her Mick was there. Although I was happy to be there I missed my granda, and I wished he came back from the kitchen and sat down with us. We’d run off to church to say a prayer…
Lighting the candles in a darkened church, the scent of sulfur, a flame licked the glowing glass orange inside and retained my blessings…
On one of those early trips, in the small back yard, there was chicken coup, and it was there I fell off the roof and landed on a pile of boards, I remember pulling a thin board off and feeling the nail tug out of my flesh. It was there in the backyard, at night, under the Irish stars my granda taught me how to box - left from the shoulders, quick and right, that’s grand Michael. Swing your weight with your hips. His smile and the resplendent stars at night, the thin moon and cats, or were they banshees that howled? Tucked in the corner of the backyard, was where the outhouse was. Sitting on the seat early in the morning was painful. Ma told me when she was growing up they’d have to use ripped newspaper, so I was happy to have the thin wax paper like toilet paper, newspaper would be too harsh, but I guess it’s better than some leaves… even back in the seventies and eighties, an outdoor toilet was uncommon.
There wasn’t a shower, but a big tub in the kitchen that grand ma would fill with hot water so to take a bath.
I’m writing this for St. Patrick’s Day and there is so much to read about the Irish civilization. Do me a favor and read the last page of James Joyce, Abbey and learn how to describe raw emotions, watch The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara who was the Irish celebrity till U2 and before them Thin Lizzy. Try some Irish soda bread. Read about the horrors of the Irish famine which killed millions. Imagine hearing the screams of the starving children. Learn more about the conflict with Northern Ireland and thank God peace has settled on the place. Ireland has transformed itself, for awhile the Celtic tiger was growling in the world’s economy, but it lasted briefly. Unemployment is high again and on All Souls Day they’d build bonfires like they’ve done for centuries…
All of these memories are whooshing back as I’m typing this on the train. Thinking of Mick Doran who is the main character in my novel Killer Commute on Champagne Books. Mick was born in Ireland and is a former professional boxer, like my granda, those who recognized him would call him champ. Doran is my mother’s maiden name and you know where Mick comes from. Still, I’m not like Mick Doran, he is a homicide detective and almost twenty years older, besides he a hypochondriac. My granda was a saint and a health machine, walked for miles each day and kept his mind on positive thinking, he was hit by a car in Dublin, but got up and brushed himself off and waved off any assistance, he said he wanted to finish his walk and didn’t want the interruptions like an ambulance or a hospital.
God bless William Doran in heaven.
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