Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Rural Ireland - not quite The Waltons

I grew up in the heart of the country and attended a country school where one of the big events (at least as far as I was concerned) was the arrival of the library van. I can't remember how often the van came to exchange books and put new ones on the one shelf which was devoted to library books. I remember that I was always waiting eagerly for it to call because I had read just about everything on that shelf.
The school was small and taught from Infants to Primary Leaving, which meant from around four- to twelve year-olds. I was about four when I started, accompanying my older brother and sister into this intriguing world. I loved reading from an early age and the habit has stayed with me.  I also developed a taste for languages. We were taught Gaelic from the moment we started school. At that time we used the Gaelic alphabet letters which were different to the English ones. To this day I lament the fact that this practice was discontinued and nowadays no one really knows how to write those ornate letters. By the way, this knowledge of Gaelic lettering came in very handy when I lived in Germany and had to read old German where some of the letters resembled the Gaelic ones of my childhood.
We lived a simple life on a small farm. One of the highlights was when my mother went to the city and came back with stories of the big world and a supply of Cheddar cheese (which we called "hard" cheese because all we could get locally was highly processed soft stuff). This all made me long to see the big cities.
When I did leave home to go to work in Dublin I felt that I was on the start of a great adventure. I thought Dublin was sophisticated, the place to live. Later I transferred my affection to London and although I have lived longer in Germany, near Frankfurt, than anywhere else, Frankfurt has never created that feeling of home for me. If I could I would divide my time between London and where I live now by the sea in Ireland.
I have to admit that I never pined for "Walton's mountain" when I left home. I was always too busy absorbing new impressions, visiting new places. Like many ex-pats, I don't really belong anywhere. I could be deposited in the middle of Brazil, say, and I would find a niche to call home on however temporary a basis. Perhaps it's a good thing, perhaps it's not. You can be located in the biggest city in the world but where you actually live is really like a village - your local shops, bus stop, familiar streets and shortcuts all form part of your environment. Speaking for myself, I can only say, looking back, that I learned something in every place I lived and I wouldn't want to have missed meeting all the people I did meet in those places.

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