Friday 20 April 2018

Lay of the land: Fiona O’Connell

Our humble home has seen many happy returns

IT'S my birthday, and I've been rubbing my hands together with the most unattractive glee for weeks, fantasising about the grotesque amount of gifts I'm hopefully going to receive. Though it's unlikely I'll get the one present I've always wanted – the means to escape the present via a time machine.

Thankfully, this town is steeped in enough history to compensate for my lack of 'Beam me up, Scotty' options. Across the river stands a watchtower from the town's founding days, while Cromwell once clip-clopped past, en route to a gory page in Irish history.

But you don't need to be Doctor Who to time travel, for a good book will do the job almost as well. I was reminded of this recently when I read a memoir by retired local schoolteacher, Joe Dunphy. When I Grow Up is a colourful history of Thomastown during the Forties and Fifties, though it undoubtedly conjures up life in many Irish towns of that era. His book also transported me across continents; for it turns out that the street where I live used to be nicknamed 'Brooklyn'. Joe Dunphy is well qualified to record this town's past; his family plot in nearby Jerpoint Abbey extends back to 1770.

We arrived early for the book launch, but there was already a huge crowd in The Salmon Pool. Gerard and Martin served us at the bar, which Tom Moylan claims is the place where "the wheels hit the ground in this town". The patriarch Walter Walsh told me that it's the town's oldest family-owned pub. They've been here since 1720.

No need to rub it in, fellas. Because as far as roots go, I'm not a twig, let alone a sapling.

But a love of times past isn't confined to regional shenanigans, as locally based author Marian O'Neill proves in her brilliant new novel All Gods Dead. Its heroine mingles with characters like Picasso and Hemingway in London, Paris and Berlin of the Twenties and Thirties.

In the 21st Century, my lack of ancestry here is somewhat offset by the antiquity of our 200-year-old town cottage. Turns out Joe Dunphy's great grandparents once called it home too. In fact, I'm forever meeting locals who lived here, or whose relatives did, or else they remember when it was a tailor's or post office.

I find past incarnations of our humble abode heart-warming. We're just one of many to live here, and I hope many more will enjoy doing so long after we're gone. For if home is where the heart is, then part of me, like its many ghosts, belongs here forever.

Sunday Independent

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