Sunday 23 October 2016

Connections are everywhere - so there's always hope for humanity

Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30

A sunset in Ballyheigue
A sunset in Ballyheigue

The nice lady on Ballyheigue Beach came over to say hello. She was minding kids there on the sunniest of sunny days, with the sea as calm as a wishing well and the ice-cream trickling down along the crispy cone from Mr Softee's ding-a-ling van.

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"You never write about Ballyheigue," said the nice lady.

Well I am now, missus.

The lady who was promoting her home place introduced me to the kids in her charge. They were making sandcastles and eating sandwiches at the same time.

So happy they were, I got to thinking that these days in Ballyheigue would in time blend into memories of summers that were always sunny.

The nice lady introduced me to the kids. From New York they were. I thought of Uncle Dan who left home when he was 18 and raised a family in the Bronx with Aunty Chris. I had to tell my Mam one October Bank Holiday Monday that Dan had passed away in his sleep. My mother and Auntie Lena travelled over to the funeral. They wouldn't let Uncle Dan down.

But there were more New York tales. The nice lady, who was a very caring lady, pointed at a little girl. "She's here on her own," she said. "Her mother and father are in New York. They can't come home or they might not get back in."

The mother and father were undocumented. The elusive Green Card was their passport home. The caring lady asked that I write about that, too. But we will keep the first promise.

Ballyheigue is an old-style seaside village in the finest possible way. On Monday last, it was easy and slow like a cat sleeping on a sunny windowsill. The village is perfect for families and the free-range rearing of kids. Generations of the same families come back year after year and you can see why. The drive into the village along the Wild Atlantic Way is a movie trailer for heaven. We were the only car on the road. North Kerry is a hidden treasure.

I was back on the day of my 14th birthday, when my Dad brought me for lunch to the White Sands Hotel. We had stuffed pork steak, sandy soil spuds and carrots as sweet as Granny Smiths. Dad had been very busy writing and we hadn't much time together in the previous year. The ever hospitable White Sands is still there, and thriving. For some reason we took the inland road home on Monday last and ended up at the Holy Well just outside the village. It was my mother's first anniversary, on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, and so my daughter Lainey said we should go in and say a prayer at the shrine to Holy Mary.

There was a Traveller man sitting near the well, saying his prayers, and you could see he was very troubled. The blonde lady with him was trying to console him.

The man climbed onto the base of Our Lady's statue, high over the well. He gently kissed the plaster forehead, whispered to the statue, and blessed himself. Then he came down to the well and drank some of the holy water from the well and blessed himself again with the water. I hope he found some comfort there.

We travelled on to Kilmore, where my great-grandmother was born. There were no more than five or six on the beach, just over the sea road from the lovely fishing village of the Cashen; the great-grandmother settled there when she married.

There's a tiny old walled-in cemetery overlooking Kilmore Strand and when the waves are big they come crashing over. Earlier this summer a memorial sign was erected in memory of Alfred Faulkner Wheelhouse, who was lost when The Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat 101 years ago. The Luisitania went down hundreds of miles away from Kilmore, yet young Alfred's dismembered body was washed up here.

I was sad for Alfred and then, later on in the week, I found out from an RIC report from the time that several local women cried over Alfred's grave. I'd be fairly certain some of my ancestors were there for Alfred. There are connections everywhere.

The little kid playing without a care there along the Ballyheigue shore came back into my mind, and her parents working so hard over in New York trying to make enough to better their lives but always on the look-out for the tap on the shoulder.

They aren't too far away from Uncle Dan's last resting place.

The troubled Traveller was in a bad state under the same sky. All these people - and my mother too - are part of the story of a single day in the life of all of their lives and deaths. We are all brothers and sisters, connected in some way. I learned a lesson on August 15 and it was: there is no distance between us. It could be the small boy covered in blood in Aleppo and the kids playing on the Kerry shore will meet up some day and become friends.

There's great hope, and humanity will always win out in the end because these universal connections are endless. The story of the how and the why, and of who we are and where we are bind us all like the pages in a storybook.

Irish Independent

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