Garryowen

Author: Mick Beville

Garryowen is a childs perspective of life as a seed on the wind. The full story is eighty five thousand words this is submission is the first few.

37 Garryowen, the address on my birth certificate there was no Avenue, Road or Street, just 37 Garryowen

It was day one or two, I�m not too sure. There were three or four women standing in the room sipping on cups of tea, staring straight at me and talking.

�Isn�t he the best looking fella you ever laid eyes on?� Said one

�He is for sure� said another, as she reached over the egg sandwiches in a wasted journey to the ashtray.

�Oh Mother of God! Will you look at the size of him Mary he�s enormous!�

�Don�t you think I know it� me mam replied, as she cradled me on her shoulder to accommodate the rooms curious smoke filtered eyes.
Then, while adjusting both our substantial weights in search of small comfort on the old settee she spoke without hint of a boast.

�Dr. Hennessey said he was over twelve pounds you know!�

�Oh Mary you poor poor woman�! God forgive me but how did you ever manage him?� Twelve pounds was the family story. I think they played with the truth a bit in those days.

�I managed like I manage everything around here, on my shagging own! And him out playing the big fella with the wages.� Her energy was being fuelled by the pure octane of injustice.

Reaching over the arm of the settee for the match box she almost strangled me. Then as the match exploded illuminating my face, I could smell sulphur, followed by Woodbine the cheapest tobacco blend on the planet.

37 Garryowen was an old damp inner city terrace that housed a family of five six if you include Granddad Mulcahy. It was the twenty-eighth of March 1949 and as the mundane miracle of life was once more being celebrated and the rain was beating Limerick�s eternal anthem on the windowpanes, I was once more enveloped with smell. This time it was the smell of burning turf and carbolic soap, mixed with a blend of tea, bread, and cabbage water.

I, being the central character in this celebration of life instinctively turned and honed in on a new and more powerful smell. Mother�s milk! In anticipation of my powerful needs me mam had unbuttoned her thick homemade woollen cardigan and was producing to the eyes of the whole room, her blue veined near exploding double D breast. Everything else went out of my mind and I was focused. My mouth instinctively locked on to her screaming wanton nipple. My whole nine months of previous life and beyond had been obsessed with reaching this very moment. My whole being was in some kind of ravenous ecstasy. I gulped and gulped, and gulped some more. I gulped like it was on some crazy special -as much as you can drink in five minutes for free-. The so-called simple act of coming up for air was completely involuntary. Then: amidst of the warm heaven of what I considered to be the meaning of life, I started to drift onto yet another plain. I could hear my mother�s heart beat, and in her heart- beat I could feel her despair despair and the weight of yet another chain. There was no joy, no maternal comfort in her heart beat. None of that I�ve just taken part in a miracle kind of feeling. There was only pain and despair. The pain of being alone, alone and suffocating and somehow I was part of her pain.
Her mighty heart was the only part of her being that had any strength left. While on the other hand, me dad – Mathew – who had long since realised his destiny, was thriving as only alcoholics and religious maniacs can thrive, in a rain soaked and utterly god fearing Catholic Ireland, by getting plastered. I guessed the alcohol was to help endure the fear of God and his intimidating cronies, with their ever-present reminders of ones constant failure. The failure to achieve the saintly unachievable, in a time where the weak get plastered and the tough get going. My mother on the other hand had never touched the stuff. I guessed she wasn�t so frightened of God but for her the �going� was certainly getting tougher.
Oblivious to her pain tonight my father would be the happiest man in the whole of Ireland. He would be generous with it. He would share his joy with anyone within an arm�s reach of a pint of porter.

Me mam starting to realise her destiny, was just about drowning in the thought of it. I instinctively knew she was a survivor and I also knew that she would have too much spirit to accept the hand she had been dealt.

Eleanor, my big sister, later to become Saint El for her work and devotion to our geriatric alcoholic father was at age six the second in command. �Mother�s little helper.�
She would tell me later that there were only two kinds of people in this world, �victims and carers.�

Alec my big brother, the kids on the street called him bullet head. Due to the shape I guess. Alec was three years old and keeping everyone on their toes with his constant demands.
Then there was me-self -Michael- the latest and greatest reason for the stretch marks, the sleepless nights, and the need to produce two gallons of milk a day.
Like an insatiable leach, I would latch onto the supply at least once every hour, day and night. Me mam would have to peel potatoes, boil cabbage, make endless pots of tea, wash, iron, clean, and all with a twelve pound and growing, suction pump hanging off her breast.
Besides me mam, Eleanor was the only one in the house that wasn�t a liability.

Granddad Mulcahy was the senior citizen of the family. My first memory of Granddad Mulcahy I was in the passenger seat of the van he was driving. Two years of age and I was Granddad’s offsider. The Morris van was used to take churns of milk from the farms around Limerick and deliver them into town. The van was also used to take greyhounds to Shannon airport for their flight to the dog tracks of England. I loved riding around with Granddad in his Morris. Everything was so green warm and optimistic as we drove along Irelands country lanes. Granddad was a different person with just me him and nature. I particularly loved nature�s shitty smells. Horseshit, Pig shit, cow shit, duck shit, and that special smell when they would all blend. There was plenty of room for shit in the Limerick countryside. I guess looking back, the Morris was a company van, but at the time I thought Granddad owned it.
Granddad had a habit of driving with his tongue out. I thought at first it was a greyhound�s thing. I soon discovered it was a genetic form of concentration. Driving along he would curse the potholes, the brakes, the wipers, the cows on the road. All the time his knuckles would be bone white, his tongue would be out the side of his mouth and his eyes fixed like Velcro�s to the windscreen. It�s probably just as well that our family�s genetic idiosyncrasies are revealed to us slowly over many years. It would be really scary if we got a manual at birth, showing us what we were in for. I also discovered that fateful day down a Limerick country lane, the down side of Granddad’s otherwise benign habit.

You guessed it:

A dog ran out in front of us. And as the tyres screamed out in agony and the milk churns tried to join us at the front of the van, I heard my first naughty words from granddad�s lips. I say his lips �cause his tongue was apparently in two pieces.

�You sucking, sucking, supid, sucking thog!�

Granddad Mulcahy was a medium-sized man and his whiskers were always a day or two behind a shave. From my earliest memory he wore the same grey short back and side�s haircut. Apart from the whiskers he was always clean and tidy. His shirt was usually off-white cotton, with a faint pin stripe. On a Sunday he would fasten a collar to it with a brass stud. And like his haircut his shirt was always fresh and smart. He always wore a waistcoat unfastened in-doors, fastened out-doors. He polished his black boots daily. He was much much more, but my most tangible memory of Granddad was the smell of boot polish, starched cotton, and carbolic soap.
Most children have four Grandparents, not me! I only had one but he was man enough for four.
Granddad had a scar on his top lip. I asked me mam one day what caused it.

�Hey mam, what�s wrong with Granddads lip?�

�Shush now, he doesn�t like to talk about it?�

�Did Granddad have an accident?�

�Yes he had an accident when he was a little boy, but don�t mention it to him�

�Was Granddad really a little boy?�

�Yes of course�

�Can I ask him about when he was a little boy?�

�If you must, but don�t mention his accident�

No one ever mentioned the accident. A conspiracy of silence surrounded Granddad’s accident. His accident may have played a part in the fact that he was an angry man. People would walk on eggshells when Granddad was around. But for all that he was well respected.

There was this one time, when the mother superior struck Saint El on the head. She struck her with the ring that Jesus gave her.

�Take that!� she said. �How dare you come into my school with your holier than though attitude!�

As legend has it, the blow drew blood.
Granddad was furious. Primed with two thousand years of resentment, and a two-day growth he stormed the school. In front of everyone there, he said to none other than the mortified mother superior.

�If you ever so much as lay a finger on my grandchild again, you ma-faced old bitch, I�ll drag the veil of that mad fekin head of yours, and give you a fong up the hole.�

What a legend, never mind the I R A, it took a real rebel to stand up to mother superior.
�Mad fekin head� I liked that bit. Granddad was the first man that ever impressed me. He had a great honesty of attitude. If he didn�t like someone, regardless of right or wrong, big or small, he would let them know.
No sooner was granddad invested as my first and to this day only hero, but we were saying goodbye to him. The family farewell was at Limerick railway station as he set off to live with Auntie Jo in England. The engine hissed and billowed like a giant monster. The mixture of noise smoke and steam was intoxicating. Then one almighty hiss of steam filled the whole station followed by the creaking of the metallic bones as the monster engine engaged inertia. I could hear granddad calling as he disappeared into the future �I love you Micheal, I love you Micheal.� �I love you granddad� I called as the train disappeared from view. It would be yet another one way ticket out of Ireland.
I often wondered if it was the mother superior thing he had to leave Ireland for. I guess god only knows it�s another of life�s little mysteries.

With me dad once more doing God�s work, the stretch marks were being expanded on and baby Tom was on his way followed two years later by Maria.
There must be something in that two years between kids thing like �Oh sweet Jesus never again� only lasts for twelve months.
By the time Tom and Maria were born we had moved onto a new housing estate called Ballynanty Beg. Life was great.
Fairy fort

We had a fairy fort opposite our house. I was always looking for the fairies. It was my second passion after food.
Our fairy fort was a rough circle of briars and small dense bushes, in the middle of a piece of common land.
Some people are afraid of the fairies. Not me! I would dream about being taken by the fairies. I would ask in my prayers to let them take me away away to their magical world, a world where everything was possible and everything was fun. Not a goody goody sort of fun, but a mischievous fun.
I would love to have met a fairy on the grey damp side of dreams door but it wasn�t to be.
They say fairies or leprechauns only appear to people who are troubled in some way, and that was never me.

�Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world�s more full of weeping than you can understand�
W.B.Yeats

The Banshee- a wispy haggard female form- is a dark reminder of impending death. With her howling wail, she would announce her intention to remove a soul from this earthly world. Some nights we would be sat around the paraffin lamp and me mam would say:

�Oh Jesus�! Can you hear that? Shush�. listen.� Then her voice would drop to a whisper as she put her index finger vertical in front of her lips. �Can you hear the Banshee calling? She�s coming she�s coming tonight to take some poor soul away�

�I can hear it mam, I can hear it�. I would say out loud and so full of excitement and I could hear it to. It would sound like a wailing dog.

�For gods sake shush Michael! Oh mother of mercy! Can you hear it? That�s the Banshee for sure. Listen for the knocks. If she�s coming here there will be three knocks on the wall.�

We would all listen at the wall intensely, and then me man would secretly knock three times, wait a moment for dramatic effect, and then whisper in a really wicked tone.

�Sure I�m only joking�.

A little chuckle could be heard coming from me mam. It was the nearest I ever saw her to having a sense of humour.
It wasn�t a joke for me. As I lay in bed I would listen intensely for the Banshee wails and the knocks. Not out of fear, I hadn�t discovered that emotion yet.