I’ve been described as a little naive by a reader but also recall once overhearing work colleagues describing me as the least cynical person they’ve ever met.
I’m not superstitious and don’t think being a Capricorn has anything to do with it, but I first saw the light of day on 28 December 1941, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles St and was washed clean of Original Sin in St Andrew’s, Westland Row, a few days later. My mother used jokingly say “Holler Street” but an older joke christened the world’s oldest maternity hospital dating from 1757 , the Rotunda, also a Dublin establishment. Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria, and Whooping Cough threatened the lives of infants, and our parents made
sure that infants stolen by those scourges would pass unimpeded through the Pearly Gates. Our parents too, in their wisdom had voted Fianna Fail into government in every election since 1932 and thus spared us a blitz such as visited on Belfast, Coventry and London. My mother’s brother
Leo, two years her junior, was not so lucky, as he was in the British Army in Singapore when the rival Empire of Japan attacked and died in February 1942.
The first memory which I can date is December 28 1944, my third birthday. I can remember the Apple Pie, and the toy aeroplane which my brother excitedly identified as a Four Engined Bomber. He’d never seen a real four-engined job, in our peaceful backwater (the Hill of Howth),
but had seen a low-flying German war-plane by the cliffs there which had removed itself when warning shots were fired by the anti-aircraft battery on the Baily Green a couple of years before. Anyhow we were well fed from locally produced food in our backwater but not booming
like our British and Continental neighbours. The Battle of the Bulge was raging in France, Italy was ablaze, the Soviets were mauling the Nazis further East there was further unpleasantness. Out of the World War, Backward Ireland (the liberated part) was Out of the Fashion.
A good illustration of this can be accessed on Youtube where you can watch colour film of Howth Regatta held in August 1942. It has had Riverdance extracts dubbed. It would be charming in any context but as a contrast with the obscenity of global war it is priceless.
On St Patrick’s Day 1943 Eamon de Valera addressed the Irish people. St Patrick was honoured for introducing Christianity to Ireland 1511 years previously and such honour was not considered Politically Incorrect in 1943, nor 50 years previously in 1893. On St Patrick’s Day 1893 a devout Protestant, Douglas Hyde and a believing Catholic, Eoin MacNeill, founded the Gaelic League. In 1943 Douglas Hyde was President of Ireland, a State which would probably not have existed without his initiative. The Gaelic League was founded to preserve and develop the Irish
Language, to promote literature, crafts and industry and it inspired a civilised national consciousness. Some of its adherents were sufficiently sentimental and backward looking to prompt Bernard Shaw to describe the movement as Irish Pre-Raphaelites, but Shaw himself often said more than his prayers. When de Valera, Sean Lemass and other Fianna Fail leaders had seen to the pieties appropriate to St Patrick’s Day, they immersed themselves in the workaday business of the safety and welfare of the Irish people that they had been elected to serve.
Anyone reading the de Valera’s 1943 and knowing the context would not find it trite or ridiculous. Had he been a fool he would never have been elected to office. Had the Irish voters been foolish then they would have found fools to lead them . Today I fear they have an embarrassment
of fools to choose from.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year.