About Me

My photo
Typical Piscean, dreamer, story teller in the tradition of my country, I love to write. I'm not sure that I'm any good at it, but getting the words down has its reward.

03 June 2014

The Great War and our Village

Last year while out on one of our country drives, OH and I came across a charity shop in a small village in Co. Westmeath.  It was one of those places that had everything from a needle to an anchor and my biggest regret was neither of us had come away with our cards and only had whatever was in our pocket.  Despite this, I managed to buy a lovely linen table cloth, complete with embroidered shamrocks and edging that was only slightly faded in the sunlight.  A good wash with lemon juice in the water brought it back to being near enough to its usual white.  I paid the princely sum of approximately £5 in euros for it.  The bargain of the century in my opinion.  Since then it has graced my kitchen table on, as my Kerry Grandmother used to call them, “Saints Days, Holy days, birthdays and when guests came for tea”.

Among my other purchases were a vintage biscuit tin with roses on it [mild rust attached at bottom corner -  €1] it now graces my desk with my pens and pencils in it, and four shabby, much worn and handled wild seed packets with a date of 1989 on them.  These cost me the princely sum of 50 cent.  They promised me that I would have a garden full of Scabious, red poppies, Scarlet Pimpernel to mention but a few. 

OH laughed at me when he saw the date; but as I said, what have I to loose.  The charity benefits by 50c, and if they can cultivate thousand year old wheat, well… ED started school in 1989, and that doesn’t seem so long ago.  When we got back home I mixed up all the seeds together, soaked them in water over night.  On the morrow I filled up the watering can with my watery seeds and, while not quite dancing around the garden like Pam Ferris in Rosemary and Thyme singing “Nymphs and Shepherds…” I fairly flung the water around the areas that OH hasn’t managed to cultivate.

We already have Rosebay Willow herb, Stone Crop, Bird’s foot trefoil, Yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, Vetch, Lucerne, Rough and White clover, and more Orange and Yellow poppies than we need.  I even managed to introduce pink poppies into the garden a few years ago.  They came in a pot of Fuchsia I had bought in our local garden centre.  It was closing down and I was first in the queue to load my trolley.  Plants were crammed together on trestle tables for sale and seeds obviously had been exchanged.  I came to call them my “value pots”.  I purchased my charity plants in April last year and OH spent the summer shaking his head and gleefully telling me “I told you so”.

Four of Mum’s cousins no longer live in Ireland, but had decided to “come home” for a visit to Ireland.  They avoided The Gathering of last year, instead choosing 2014 to be their year to travel.  The son of one of them did the driving and they arrived last Wednesday.  I had organised accommodation in our local hotel for them.  The youngest is 81, the eldest, who lives locally, is 93; she booked into the hotel with them for companionship.  

They all stem from here where I live.  Their Great-Grand or Grandfathers were my Grandfather’s brothers.  In their 80’s you say and you’re 60 how come the generational difference?  Grandfather was the youngest of seven brothers and four sisters and the one who stayed to continued dairy farming here.  The cousins are descended from his elder brothers.  Over the years they had kept in touch with Mum, and when she passed on six years ago they corresponded with me.

On Saturday afternoon I hosted afternoon tea in the garden for them.  We sat out in glorious sunshine and I brought out the best family china for the occasion.  Some of it inherited from our mutual Great-Grand/Grandmother.  All of them had spent childhood holidays here and we had a memory fest!  The old gate OH discovered buried in the ground and which we restored, caused many Ooh! and Ah’s! Winnie and Deena – the eldest at 87 and 93 remembered swinging on it and were delighted to see it back only a few feet from its original site. On the new lane we have created at the foot of OH’s formal flower beds, there is a riot of colour with red clover, red poppies, cranesbill, corn marigold, fox gloves [which we already had] and many more wild flowers.  OH is remarkably quiet about this show of colourful glory.  My smirk is wide. 

The sight of the red poppies caused Laura (86) to recall her Father’s memories of the effect of The Great War on the village.  Three boys joined the British army and went away to fight on Flanders Fields. Two of them, Georgie and Ned, were brothers.  Both survived the war, but never returned, apart from visits to family, choosing to live in England.  One of them made a career in the army and saw fighting in India, Africa and elsewhere.  He retired, as far as she knew, to open a pub deep in the English countryside.  Tom returned, suffering from the effect of gas and lived on his pension to the ripe old age of 77. 

Georgie and Ned’s last surviving nephew died two weeks ago.  He was born in 1920. No one of that family lives in the village now.  All descendants have emigrated. Tom used to sit on fine days on a low wall near the bus stop.  As children we loved to hear his tales of the war.  He had been a “gunner” as he old us.  We, being very young and very innocent of life in the great big world equated this with “runner” and wondered how he ran around with a great big gun under his arm.  He had shown us pictures of himself and his comrades beside their great big gun.  In those days, everything was “great big” to us..

My Grand-Uncle Nick, third brother up from Grandfather, was keen to join up in 1914 at the age of 16 but his eldest sister put her foot down on this plan.  Their mother had died when my Grandfather was thirteen and Kate (second eldest child) reared the youngest members.  Nick died of TB aged 21, working on the farm.

Emily (81) remarked on the current fashion for young men to wear their hair cut short over their ears and to wear beards.  One of her Grandsons, she told us, has taken to wearing Edwardian style suits, and has gone from looking like a member of ZZ Top to someone just about to embark for the Somme.  As she was describing him, a neighbour’s son arrived with some post that had been dropped into his Mothers letter box by mistake.  Sporting the short back and no sides’ haircut, neatly trimmed beard, grand-dad shirt and khaki trousers with braces and brown boots with a high shine on them, he brought her description of Shane to life. The only thing that ruined this living sartorial piece of history was the mobile phone ear piece.  2014 meets 1914.  I wondered if the mobile phone had been invented then, would some lives have been saved.


Frances said...

Irish Eyes, I have had great pleasure in reading this post. As always, you take me gently and wisely in to the natural world, but this time also give me much to think about generations of yore, generations with stories to tell of yore, and generations in the midst of creating their own stories. In full costume and connected to appliances.

Every bit of this was wonderful. Thank you to letting the rest of us join your garden tea party, with all those lovely flowers.


Pondside said...

I so enjoyed your description of the visit from your cousins. I, too, come from a family in which members of the same generation are actually a generation apart.