Billy Keane

Wednesday 23 July 2014

A forgotten generation forced into exile – in their own land

Billy Keane

Published 21/04/2014|02:30

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‘We're entitled to have our children around us in their own place’
‘We're entitled to have our children around us in their own place’

THE family are sitting around the table for their dinner on Easter Sunday. The aroma of roast lamb in rosemary and thyme is timeless. Gravy thick and brown. Gravy only your mother can make. Mam fussing. Loving to be busy. She drains the perfect spuds from the sandy soil over by the coast. Takes up carrots as sweet as apples .

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The kids still love to get the Easter eggs. The oul fella says "no Easter eggs until after the dinner", even though his children are all over 25. For the fun of it, they ask if it's okay to open a small one. "Go on," he says. "Just the one." Dad was always useless at being strict.

The first grandchild is passed from loving arms to loving arms. The daughter-in-law says the baby looks like his Dad and her father-in-law says "no the baby is like your people".

The new baby gurgles. The grandmother who has a new name at 60 – Nana – says reassuringly "it's only wind" as she expertly turns the baby over on the tummy and gently taps her grandchild on the back.

"Go away out tonight," she says to the new mother, who has taken over her old name – Mammy. "Go on away out with the lads and have a few drinks. I'll stay in and babysit. Sure I'd love it – to have the baby all to myself."

The new mammy is delighted. She hasn't had a night out since the baby was born. There was no one to get for babysitting. No one they knew well enough and then there was the cost. Rent in the city was high. House prices were rising fast and there was the sense of inevitability they might never own their own home. Here in their home place, there were still bargains to be had, if only there was work.

The pub is busy, for once. There are kisses and handshakes. They talk of old times. Old times only a few years old. The friends haven't met up since Christmas but that's the way with the ones you grew up with.

There's no lead-in time. The laughs are real. Secrets are kept and the concern is real too. The weekend flies by. Time at home always does.

Then today comes and it's back up to the big city. The couple console each other. "At least we're home in Ireland. Only a few hours away up the motorway."

Dublin is where the people are. Dublin is where the jobs are. It's a great city in many ways. Dublin is a friendly place, but there's nothing for nothing.

You work harder than they do at home just to stay in the same place and it's not home. Nana isn't there for the babysitting or the advice. You visit your favourite tree or the river place you love best in the mind's eye on city streets.

There are thousands of you driving up the motorway this morning who will be thinking: "Dublin is fine but it's not mine. I'm from a small town or farm or a little village but no one feels for us because, well, we're at home. Home as in Ireland. But it's not our own place. Not our real home."

It's just the two of them at home now. For the grandparents, the trip up is a big ordeal. A day coming and a day going. The cows to be milked while they're away and Dublin is mad dear. Somehow they still manage a few bob to help out with the cost of all the stuff you need for the new baby. And they worry. How will the new mammy cope? Is it worth her while to keep her job going, what with high cost of childcare and her being so highly qualified after her five years in college and all the money spent on her. "There's no back-up in the city."

That's the talk out of them when the house is quiet. She keeps busy making scones. He says she bakes for the therapy of it. "Do you know," says her man, "the baby will be crawling the next time they come home."

She kneads the dough. Roughly, with the temper and frustration rising in her. She looks up at him and says: "There's never a word about the migrants. The country people who go to up to the city for work. They're forced to leave home as well." Her husband has a new concern.

"I was just thinking wouldn't it be desperate if the grandchild ended up playing for the Dubs."

"To be honest," she says, "sometimes, I'm sorry we didn't sell up and go to the city. At least we'd all be together. And we'd have money. Didn't we spend thousands on renting oul flats when they were students. And now we haven't enough to help them. I wish the IDA would come down to see us and we'd tell them we're entitled to have our children around us in their own place. We'd tell them, there's more to Ireland than the big cities."

"Don't be upsetting yourself," he says gently. "Sure hasn't it always been this way around here."

"It has," she says, "but we have to fight. We have to help ourselves. I'm going to start something up and to hell with the IDA. I'll do it myself," she says, as the anger and sorrow come out in tears.

She wipes her eyes. He brushes away the flour from her cheeks. They're landed in Dublin. He texts. "In Dublin now. Thanks Mam and Dad for a lovely Easter. We'll be home in June, hopefully. xxx."

Irish Independent

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