Friday 18 January 2019

Midlife: My rusty school Irish erupted out of nowhere. Bairbre de Paor is ainm dom

Peig Sayers turned out to be an inspiration for learning.
Peig Sayers turned out to be an inspiration for learning.
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

It was hard not to get just a little bit nostalgic about my childhood school days as I watched all the new pupils walking along St Stephen's Green. Oh how we loved our pleated wine uniforms and berets as little ones, but positively hated them by the time we left school 13 years later.

To this day, I've never ever worn the colour wine in any shape or form again. The colour is dead to me after wearing it five days a week for nine months of the year for more than a decade. I'm not alone in harbouring this colour prejudice from my school uniform days and, to be honest, the only time wine ever gets past the gatekeeper is in liquid form. Mine's a Merlot.

The start of the new term triggered memories - nothing maudling as I was happy as a trout there - but it got me thinking about how many of my favourite school subjects I've taken forward with me in life.Nothing changed on the gym front. I was lousy at it in school - never did manage to vault the wooden horse - and, to this day, I detest gyms. And the brown bread in my first Home Ec class came out burnt - a harbinger of what was ahead on the kitchen front.

This week I read a possible explanation for my maths dyslexia. Teachers gave up on me as a lost cause, but maybe it could be down to 'dyscalculia' which has been identified by researchers as a possible reason why so many struggle with maths. I loved debating at school and I can still talk 19 to the dozen and off topic! I've happily brought a love of English, history and geography with me through life, but the one that got away was Irish. The heart and soul was willing, but I just didn't have a grá for grammar... and then there was Peig Sayers.

Oh sweet lord, how we laboured with the infamously bleak, obligatory book that most of us wanted to burn after the Leaving Cert exams. But now, with respect and maturity, I can appreciate how Peig was a voice for uneducated Irish women who never had the opportunity to speak for themselves.

Last week, I found myself in Kerry visiting friends and I made a point of visiting Dingle. I needed to make my peace with Peig, so often blamed for turning us off the native tongue.

Sadly, a visit to the Great Blasket Island proved impossible but I spoke to lots of people about her and took a walk past the hospital where she ended her days.

And then it happened. Standing outside the Bean In Dingle coffee shop, who strode into our path but the giant that is Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. The legendary GAA commentator extended a welcoming hand to my friend and I duly introduced myself when, out of nowhere, it all came flooding back as I rattled off the words I haven't had need to say for decades: "Bairbre de Paor is ainm dom."

Then, when Mícheál queried whether I had Port Láirge roots, I surprised myself yet again and responded, rather fluently I might add: "No, as Thiobraid Árann." I was beyond chuffed. Peig hadn't finished me off after all. It just goes to show, the old brain cells aren't so rusty that they can't pull out something from deep in your ageing grey matter.

Truth be told, that has been one of the doubts hanging, like a cloud, over a return to study history as a mature student. Very mature student, some might say!

What will the old memory cells be like and will they be able to retain information?

I waved slán to Mícheál and continued on my walk. Reaching Goat Street, I marvelled both at its name and a wall plaque detailing how, during the French Revolution, James Louis Rice, an Irish officer in the Habsburg Imperial Services, organised an escape for Queen Marie Antoinette from Paris to his family home in Dingle, but the queen refused to leave Louis XVI and their children.

Down the street, I visited the Church of St James, where pilgrims used to start their journey to Santiago de Compostela via the port of Corona.

All this historical information fired up that back-to-school zeal in me, and it was all discovered due to a guilty curiosity about the woman from Dún Chaoin.

Thanks Peig, or should I say, go raibh maith agat.

Irish Independent

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