The Mountain Will Always Be Here
When I was about two years old, I was taken to Ireland
to stay with my aunts and uncles for the duration of
the Second World War.We arrived at the farmhouse on the
lower slopes of the Comeragh Mountains in County Waterford,
an idyllic spot for anyone escaping the bombs and
the burning buildings, but for an imaginative, inquisitive
child like myself, it was filled with mysteries and
unusual hiding places and lots of docile farm animals
to poke sticks at and send scampering into a different
But wars usually end, and children loaned out to
relatives have to be collected and so it was, towards
the end of 1945, six years after saying goodbye to them,
my parents arrived to take my brother and I back to
our new home in Edinburgh.
I cried when my uncle, Michael, hugged me for the last
time. He had taught me to speak, to read and write,
anything that I could claim to be had him running through
it. The farewells, at Dungarvan railway station, ripped
a hole in my heart which I believed could not be
repaired. Michael seemed to know what I was going through.
He also knew that once I settled in Edinburgh, amid
the trams and the noise, the letters would become less
frequent, new experiences would absorb my time and
energies, Ireland would recede into the background, not
because I wanted it to happen but because he was wise
enough to know that it would.
"Never mind, far bocht," were Michael's parting words
to me, "You may not always have us, but you will always
have the mountain."
Forty years later I went back to visit the mountain.
Michael had long since gne and lay buried in a tiny plot
in Tourneena cemetry along with his mother and two
sisters. I cried again when I saw the family grave.
The bones of these wonderful people who taught me
everything that I knew until I was eight years old,
and whose example has been one of the great motivating
forces of my life, were stretched out, here, beneath
my feet. I wanted to lay on the erth and hug them, one
by one. My daughter Debbie, who was with me, shared,
though perhaps not with complete understanding, every
ragged emotion that I was going through.
Afterwards, we went to pay homage to the mountain.
Curving up until it cut the sky, it was more majestic
than I had remembered. We climbed a few hundred feet
until I was conscious of its solid embrace, then I lay
on my back, half-submerged in wild grasses and purple
heather, closed my eyes and waited for the sights and
smells of 1944 to come flooding through me which they
did, like an electric current.
There was my Aunt Mary arriving from the creamery with
the supper, my Aunt jo clearing things off the table and
going to add a slab of turf to the open hearth fire.
Michael disappearing into his room with a jug of hot
water to rinse the day's grime from his stubbled face,
grime accumulated in the fields while he helped my
grandfather, Terence, after whom I had been named, to
cut the corn and tie it into bundles, or 'stooks', as
the farmers called it.
My grandmother, her two walking sticks discarded for
the minute, waited the signal to rotate the wheel that
would send sparks shooting above the chimney stack out
into the cool evening air. A border collie named Spot
shuffled nearer to the flames, scarcely visible beneath
a topcoat of soot and ashes.
Michael had told me, attempting to stem a child's
bewildered tears, that the mountain would always be here
for me. That afternoon, I felt, and was thankful for,
its extraordinary power.
|Posted: February 13, 2005 , Modified: February 14, 2005|