Ballinasloe's Vice- Chairman John Boland won first place in this prestigious national competition.
The other was referred to as “the room”. Here was grand furniture, almost complete wedding gift delph sets, and yellowing bone handled cutlery. Unknown uncles and aunts peered severely at us from sepia photographs in heavy ornate frames. Crocheted tablecloths rested uncomfortable in musty drawers. Here also stood the piano, and it’s far from interesting music stool, which one could raise or lower with a spin. Here we sat grandly but not comfortably on special occasions and never with feet on the upholstery on the settee. A square of woolen carpet, surrounded with shellacked floorboards, was the exact replica of the one in the flying carpet stories of the Arabian fame.
The kitchen was far more user friendly and at the heart of all the action really. A large open fireplace with two polished hobs filled one end of the room. One of these formed a repository for ashes, the other anchored an iron crane, bristling with adjustable hooks, and swinging like a single bar gate over the eternal flame of the turf fire. On its blackened hooks hung, inter alia, a singing kettle, humming the eternal music of tea making, while the lime coated marble banged against its metal sides. Always during the pitch-black wind whispering night, the tuneless crickets sang to their mates. Above, goblins and fairies flew past the smoke belching chimney top, unable to gain entry into our happy human world.
Ranged around the hearth was a collection of chairs and stools. Father sat, as he felt was his right, I suppose, in the armchair at the right of the fire. Mother sat on a straight backed kitchen chair on the left, nearest the turf-box. She was the keeper of the flame, a Celtic female tradition, no doubt invented by men. In between the parents, sat the motley crew of children, rejoicing in the physical and human warmth of family, savoring affection and security in the few hours before bedtime.
At the other end of the room stood the dresser –“filled with shining delph, speckled and white and blue and brown”. Three large and very interesting oval platters, used only to display the steaming turkey at Christmas, filled the shelf. At the right of the dresser rested two enamel coated buckets of fresh water from the well in the yard. The lower part of the dresser contained the dried orange peel, spice- smelling, sweet-tasting ingredients of our mother’s baking. Here the Orient met the west, the strange powders transformed mundane meals into dishes that would leave Nigella floundering. Between them and the delph were two drawers, more important than the Holy Grail. Here creation was still ongoing. Everything needed to pump a bike, repair, adjust, revive, or regulate any matter, was always to be found “in the drawer of the dresser”.
At the window, and beneath the large wall mounted oil-lamp, stood the well scrubbed wooden table covered in a floral oilcloth. This was the Reno of the 1940’s Ireland! Here fortunes were bet on the turn of a card, and whole pennies wagered on whether your opponent really had the five of trumps after all. Draughts, Snakes and Ladders, Cludo and any number of board games were dragged out to while away the fast passing and rarely appreciated hours of youth.
A night-time knock on the door brought instant reaction indoors. Ashes were swept aside, turf added to the already ample fire, the kettle lowered on its hook to sing more readily towards boiling point. Visitors were always welcomed by young and old. Tea was made and bread, butter and jam handed around. All drank strong tea…. “strong enough to trot a mouse on”. Stories were told, prices of cattle discussed, and later when the young ones were in bed, the meaty gossip of the day revealed. Some neighbors were better than others for news in those pre CNN, or Sky news days. Hitler and Churchill may have had their problems destroying or saving the world, but who was “going out” with whom, or better still who was no longer going out with whom, was of far greater importance in the place where I was born.
Beyond the house was the wider world of cattle, horses and sheep. Dogs constantly dashed around busily, inviting them to give them work. The cockerel crowed importantly, scratching hens ignored him; the ducks waddled in a line to the nearby stream as it noisily made its weedy way to the river.
In the intimacy of the home we learned more than any university ever taught. We learned the love of family and friends, and the importance of place, especially the place where I was born. We were infused with its colors; it’s ever changing geography, sounds, and varied population. But most of all we were marked for life by the values it gave us.
John Boland. 2013