This morning, in the wake of ongoing Brexit talk, I cried for Ireland. The tears came spontaneously after listening to ‘On your farm’ on BBC Radio 4, with Sarah Swadling … visiting Clare Island on the west coast off County Mayo, talking to Joe O’Malley, a farmer with a deep love for the land, and a young man of 23 who also loved the island and planned to stay, unlike many young folk who would go to college and never return. They also spoke of the legendary Grace O’Malley, the ‘Pirate Queen’ whose story I had read and loved years ago.
My mother was born in Co Mayo and we used to visit there as children, my father driving the140 mile journey from Belfast to visit Papa our grandfather and Aunt Ethel, our mother’s stepmother, in his Vauxhall 10 before he upgraded to the Velux. She had moved to the big city in her late teens to study as a secretary and there met my father, a nephew of her stepmother and fell in love. Her older sister Doris, after some years in boarding school, also moved to Belfast, where she met and married her preacher husband Bobbie. Her brother Cecil moved to Dublin and married a Dublin girl, and we often visited that family in Dublin as children. Myra the youngest trained as a nurse, then worked in the hotel industry in Donegal, where her stepmother’s brother owned the Rosapenna hotel. So my southern Ireland connections were formed, and later I would return to Dublin to visit my husband Chris’s brother Terence, who studied at Trinity College there, and later rose to Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature.
Through Terence and his American wife Sue, I came to learn a lot more about Irish literature, poetry and music, and the emphasis it had in Irish culture. This formed in my mind as a different way of life to that in the north, where the emphasis was on hard work, church doctrines and cleanliness and tidiness! I could see as a child that there was value in both, but I started to warm to the more intuitive southern values. At school I had only discovered poetry for myself in my final year when we had a new teacher (from Dublin!) who clearly loved poetry. And so my values shifted. I love Northern Ireland where I was born and obviously know better. Now I have mixed feelings, and would be happy with a United Ireland so long as my pension was not affected!