It was around 1980 or 1981 that my mother changed her life. Having raised seven children she was seeing light at the end of the tunnel from the constant routines of motherhood. I was studying for my leaving certificate and the youngest in our family, Cormac, was studying for his inter cert.
Maura had worked all her life. Up to this point mostly teaching dressmaking in evening classes. From time to time pitching for sewing contracts. I recall one memorable commission to repair state flags. For weeks we had these enormous official banners occupying every inch of floor space in the house as my mother and a coterie of recruits gave them a makeover.
The 1980’s saw her embark on an entirely new career. She always had an interest in drama from her teen years and at one time entertained ambitions to tread the boards herself, unrealized due to marriage and the wonders of Catholic family planning. She studied for her ALCM and LLCM, earning herself a diploma in Speech and Drama. She went on to become a teacher of both children and adults.
My particular memory is of my mother practicing her recited poetry pieces. Cormac and I would come home from school at lunchtime, expecting dinner on the table, to find Maura immersed in recitation. Panic would ensue and her specialty was the ability to create a hot meal out of thin air in an instant. We never starved for food, and certainly not for culture. These two poems in particular are engrained on my soul.
Sonnet XVIII ; by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Stony grey soil: by Patrick Kavanagh
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.
You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble.
You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life conquering plough!
The mandril stained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.
You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of cowards’ brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food
You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!
Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I stilll stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisoned pen.
His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.
Mullahinsa, Drummeril, Black Shanco-
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.