“Mother of divine…, wudja looka dat, oh Blessed Mother…!” The nasal inner Dublin accent rose in horror and heads turned in MacDonald’s as the seventy something grandmother and what was obviously her seed, breed and creed of a family sat looking around them.
OH, YD and I were in Tralee at last. I had always promised myself from an early age that I would celebrate my 60th birthday in my Father’s home town; and here we were, late in arriving but there and grabbing a Makky D because, this being Ireland, and St. Patrick’s week end, the restaurants in the town had seen fit to close at 7.30 or earlier on Saturday night Anywhere else would have the place hopping with places to eat, but no, my beloved Tralee was seeing to it that OH and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary with…burger and chips. Well, mostly chips for me, because of the gluten free aspect of my life.
We had just sat down in MacD’s – the old reliable and only open eatery that night, when our peace was shattered by the sudden discovery by Ma Potts that people in Kerry do not wear the Dublin football colours as a matter of course, they tend to favour green and gold if wearing sporting apparel. The heart of the rowl, no doubt in her own inner city area of Dublin, this lady was obviously in for a shock. It says a lot for the Kerry tolerance that she didn’t raise a row with her comments. I think they took pity on her poor son who was valiantly trying to shut her up with “shur-up Ma, yer not in Dubblin now, Ma, will yiz fekin give over”.
“Are yew fekin speekin to me yer mudder?” the matriarch querously asked in stentorian tones. “Yer poo-er mudder who raised yiz wivouh a fekin penny to her na-um, and she widowed dese forty yeerz!” she continued. “Yeh fekin ungrateful whelp ya, yiz were glad o me penshun when yiz cudden afford yer fancy forrun holidee.” She puffed herself up portraying a study in aggrieved, hard done by, widowhood. It wasn’t getting her very far with the family bcause “our Arlene”, all six years of her and Holy Communion dress with tomato ketchup stains down it, was not behind the door in passing comment. “Didden I tell ye Da she’d make a holy show uv uz?” Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and then down her dress, Arlene was as aggrieved with her Granny as her Granny was with Darren the couch potato son.
Eventually Ma was brought under control by Darren and Wendy his wife. In the course of twenty minutes we got the whole family history, financial status, and the fact that Darren and Wendy were used to travelling to Spain for “conkinental” holidays but Darren being unemployed – as indeed was Wendy – apparently Ma’s offer to fund St Patrick’s week end in Tralee had been eagerly grabbed. Ma, however, was not one to hide her opinions behind her hand, and the “fekin mountains” which were too high, the “weird accent” of the locals and the fact that she had decided that the receptionist in the hotel was looking down on her because she had called her Madam had led to Ma taking full verbal flight. Verbally. With verbosity and neither Darren nor the entire Cup winning Kerry team would, she asserted, make her shut up any time soon.
We left them to their own devices and headed on for The Courtyard Cottages in Blennerville where we had booked our cottage for the week. We had stayed in Derry and Myra Daly’s lovely holiday homes before and it was like a home coming.
Up bright and early on Sunday morning, OH and I headed in to Tralee to Mass at The Dominican priory. While OH, I have no doubt, said his prayers, my mind wandered back to the days when, as a child, my Father’s mother would lead us all up the main aisle, nodding a greeting here and there, as, with tremendous piety, she genuflected and took her seat in the pew. Many a puck she gave me between the shoulder blades for not genuflecting properly and when my first cousins would be staying with her at the same time, the giggling was, as they would say in Kerry, mighty!
Time and tide may have brought Tralee into the twenty first century with it’s out of town shopping malls, T K Maxx, Home Focus, Tesco, Woodies, and all the other “anchor tenants” of these places notwithstanding, there are some things that never change. Maybe it is part of the national character that, regardless of whether a person is dressed in a genuine 60’s suit that he bought circa 1960, or a 2014 version of a 1960’s vintage suit, people who didn’t grow up with Home and Away and Friends, have their own ethnic authenticity.
There, at Mass, were people who were instantly recognisable because their forebears attended the same mass in the same priory in my childhood. The local solicitor, probably a bachelor living at home with the mammy. The modern version of him didn’t use brasso to dye his hair, but dye he did. A dark burnt orange horseshoe ring around his head. Dandruff a thing of the past now that Head and Shoulders had found its way into Irish bathrooms. Shoes gleaming and a crease in his trousers that only a loving mammy could achieve. The seventy year old lady, aubergine chenille scarf, purple wool coat, lilac trousers and black gloves, elegant as her own mother probably was, but the 21st century addition was a pair of white Adidas runners. Her silver hair beautifully cut and peeking out from under a lavender felt cloche hat. The day was bitterly cold, but she was snugly caressed by warm clothes and sturdy footwear against all elements.
The one thing I was determined upon for this break was relaxation. No running around to visit the cast of thousands of relatives [or so it seems when you want to head for Dingle]. No up at ungodly hours in the morning to get to here there and everywhere. I had a specific agenda. Whatever the weather I would be out at Slea Head on my birthday.
I was not going near Killarney, I can’t stand the place. I wanted to sit and watch the clouds play over the Slieve Mish Mountains from Brandon Point, and OH and YD were willing participants in my Grande Plan. ED would be joining us later in the week, and as she would live out at Slea Head, given half a chance, no issues there either.
By way of relaxation on Sunday we headed for Ballyseedy and the garden centre there. The fact that it has a large Meadows and Byrne shop too was possibly an attraction. It is twice the size of my local Meadows and Byrne, so the possibilities were interesting. In the event, we were waiting for parking for half an hour, OH’s not endless patience was beginning to fizzle out when we finally got a spot to abandon the car. An hour later and a lovely pale grey with cherry blossom patterned oilcloth wended its way back to the car. We rounded off the evening with some lemon and garlic chicken, a glass or two of a very nice white wine and a blazing fire. Sitting and chatting while a gale howled around the mountain tops.
On Monday we decided to forgo the St Patrick’s Day parade. I’m not hugely impressed with him anyhow. St Declan and St Otteran to mention but two had already brought Christianity to Ireland before Patrick came to herd sheep. It was well established here before him, but he had the better PR firm looking out for him. We sauntered up to Ballyheigue and watched the surfers making the best of high rolling waves. After lunch, the lure of Slea Head was too strong, and we headed out via Annascaul to Dingle. We didn’t stop in the South Pole Inn, it was raining and cold out so we stayed snug in the car. Tom Crean who accompanied Shakelton to the South Pole is well remembered here.
On Tuesday YD had to travel to Dublin overnight on business, but we were looking forward to her return the following night with ED in tow. OH and I meandered around the town doing a little shopping and after a very filling steak for me and bacon and cabbage lunch for him in Gally’s Restaurant, we drove out to Castlegregory and sat and watched with wonder the splendour of the Atlantic rollers coming in towards us. Teal and white, with wine coloured sand from the local sandstone, and a grey sky. If we had demanded dramatic effects, we couldn’t have been better served. It was awesome. That evening we treated ourselves to a meal in Keane’s pub in Curraheen.
I broke my own rule on Wednesday and we called in for a chat and a cup of strong tea to an elderly relation of my Fathers. The craic, as the saying goes, was mighty. Maura in her 90th year, was amazed to discover that “the little one”, as she used to call me when she visited my Grandmother, was now 60. I hope I look as good as her if I see 90. She’s sharp as a pin and if arthritis has taken its toll, she wears it with dignity. OH loves these sort of visits. Although he is a country man himself by birth, he hails from a different part of the country. Kerry is not called the Kingdom for nothing. The people are different, the land is magnificent, home to the highest mountains in Ireland. Carraunthouill is the highest mountain in Ireland. Even 800 years of occupation could not dim the Kerry spirit. I am immensely proud of my Kerry ancestry. It is this ancestry which moves me to write my short stories. As my Grandfather used to tell his children Glor na Gael [the glory of the Irish] is strong in the people of the Kingdom of Kerry. I am a mixed bag on my maternal side with Dublin, Sligo and Wicklow blood in my veins, but it is Kerry that stirs my soul.