Six weeks ago I was sitting down having a quick cuppa, pondering on life in general, when there was a tap on the kitchen window. We don't get passers-by here as we are up a long lane, rather off the beaten track. It was a neighbour, from down the lane, with whom I had grown up in this village. To be more accurate, her sister and I are of an age and played cheyneys, hopscotch, and all the other childhood games together in a sunshine blessed childhood. Maura is seven years older than I am, and back in the day that was tantamount to light years.
"We're getting a history group together" she said, breathless from the climb up to our house. "It's part of that group who keep the village tidy, something to do with heritage" she continued. "I thought of you instantly, so are you game? Will you come down to the pub on Saturday morning after the clean-up and we can find out whats what?". I agreed, but pointed out to her that owing to a major disc problem in my back, I have never been able to take part in the clean-ups, and that this might cause some resentment. "Ah! let it", said she. "Aren't we too old to be pluckin' weeds out of the footpath, and don't we contribute financially, and anyway I've the same problem myself and don't physically participate". Enough said, I was in.
On that balmy Saturday morning, it was arranged that a meeting would be held during the week to organise what it was all about. Maura, Therese, Louise and I met up at the end of the lane and headed for our local. There we met the chairperson, new to the village, twenty years ago, who told us that "being as how" we were probably the longest residing in the village, we "may know about the history of it". There were jobs for everyone, she said. It was like some sort of corporate business meeting. Laura, another one of the villages "old residents" decided not to come in on the history group; she and her husband elected to join the graphics group; we agreed to keep her posted on our research and any historical information she had, she would pass it on to us.
Between us, we constitute the sum total of 254 years of shared history between us. Our families all arrived from County Wicklow in the 1800's. Mine after the Great Famine of 1847. We're here from sometime around 1856-'59; Maura's family came in 1870, Therese is a relation of Maura's and descended from the same root stock and Louise can trace her family back to 1880. Some of us have seven generations to show and others five.
Resentment? A little, from "blow ins" of only 80 years. Bewilderment from those who landed here 20-40 years ago, the old families are all inter-related, except mine. My family tended to marry out. Throw a stone in this village and you'll hit someone who is related to somebody, and newbies find this bewildering. It's a village of three parts, really. Upper and Lower, clinging to the hill side. The Upper part being the oldest. The third part is the "Who's Who of Generations living here".
Mum's childhood friend [family arrived here in 1865] has joined us. I love this; I get to share memories with a wonderful lady 86 years old and as mentally acute as a razor. Her knowledge of village history is almost computer-like, and as I learned all the history from my Mother over the years, if Mary gets stuck, I have the back-up information. Following on from that first meeting we met in my house, and over tea and sweet cake we never saw five hours fly by.
In the past six weeks, we have met every week. The major group is keen to hold an exhibition of village history in the autumn and we are working towards that goal. We do approximately four per cent work on it, and the rest is glorious. Hours of chat, memories of people long gone but very lovingly and in some cases unlovingly remembered; tonnes of laughter and above all a new found sort of kinship. We have decided to continue on meeting every month just for the company and the craic.*
We are the last of our breed. The twenty plus age difference between Mary and the rest of us is non-existent. We were raised with the same principles as she was. Life was hard in the village for her family and our families; but there was a pride, a joy and a fervour in making something of oneself that encompassed the generations right up to ours. Social media has changed a lot of things nowadays; some of it for good, and some with disastrous outcomes.
My night was made last Tuesday when Louise and Therese walked me home from a meeting in Maura's house. We do that for each other - really it is just an excuse to continue the gossip. We stood for another hour chatting over my garden gate at midnight. As they took their leave Louise turned to me and, calling me not by my present surname but by that of my Grandfather, said "see you next Tuesday, I'll bring the buns!".
* craic = [Ir.] fun, used to describe a joyous occasion.