Some diary entries … March to May 1999

1/3/99 – Sean played Hercules – he loves it and is progressing through the various levels.

4/3/99 – Pauline took the kids to an Irish dancing lesson in Maghera (their first) – they both enjoyed it enormously … A tree fell across the road today just after Maire, Andy and Susanna passed on the way home from school, and just before Pauline drove to Erika’s – she had to turn and go another way.

5/3/99 – We watched The Simpsons and the final of Robot Wars; Sean rang Peter to tell him about the latter and we chatted to him.

6/3/99 – Pauline went out to look for Itsy, who hadn’t come home last night (not for the first time). She found poor little Itsy dead by the side of the road – she was still warm, her eyes were open and she wasn’t marked except for some blood by her nose. The children were very upset … She was a lovable cat.

7/3/99 – My dad rang to tell me how much he’s enjoying a copy of Oscar Wilde’s Complete Works that I brought home from London for him in 1979.

9/3/99 – Three herons flew just over the car beside the site, which Pauline interpreted as a good sign.

11/3/99 – Maureen and Pauline went to Oldcastle and bought two day-old lambs for Maire – they’re adorable.

12/3/99 – Sean played with the lambs a lot … The lambs got various feeds of formula milk from a bottle.

13/3/99 – We all watched the fireworks display from Dublin on TV – Sean was most impressed.

14/3/99 – Sean and Susanna presented Pauline with mother’s day cards … We allowed them to make coffee and bring it to us in bed, for the first time ever … Sean, Susanna and I burned some rubbish and messed about outside.

17/3/99 – We all, including Sinead, went to the St Patrick’s Day parade in Mullagh, which was about what one would expect in a very small town, i.e. pretty hopeless. But the kids enjoyed it … We watched the Man Utd–Inter Milan match … Even though Sean likes Man Utd best, he was up for Inter because Ronaldo was playing.

19/3/99 – We all went to Maire’s in the dark later to feed the lambs, the kids being in their pyjamas.

20/3/99 – Sean gave us coffee in bed again, a bit lukewarm this time … Sean and Susanna are now making mosaics …

22/3/99 – Helped Sean with his homework – he continued with his flatfish mosaic, which is looking very well … Granny and Grandad had rung to tell the kids that Bertie [dog] was dead – they weren’t all that upset about it, as they hadn’t know Bertie well. This led to a discussion of death between the four of us, with Sean wondering which of us would be the first to die. Susanna said ‘It’s a pity that there’s such a thing as dying’ – a thought that we’ve all had at some time, probably.

23/3/99 – There was a jackdaw in the office, which must have come down the chimney – there was soot and poo on the pool table. I managed to get it out the window.

24/3/99 – Sean had come in a couple of times during the night – the second time he said he had had a nightmare that ‘scared the living daylights out of’ him – Tiger had turned into a chimpanzee … I walked part of the way up the fields three times in all, with Sean and Tiger and, the last time, Susanna. A feature of these days is that Tiger plays chasing games with one of the young calves in the field. The cow is quite protective but Sean and Susanna have been stalking the calves, and Sean has managed to pet one of them.

25/3/99 – The kids and Tiger spent some time in the field with the calves before school.

27/3/99 – I played football with Sean – it was a beautiful day, like summer.

1/4/99 – We took Sean to his first Gaelic football training session … Sean enjoyed himself

3/4/99 – We got up around 9.30 and got Sean ready for his first Gaelic football match, which was a challenge between Munterconnaught and Cuchullainn’s, from near Mullagh … Sean was a sub but didn’t get a game, which didn’t bother him, and Munterconnaught under-12s were well beaten in the end.

8/4/99 – Fr Brady called while Pauline was out at the shops, and heard Sean’s first confession (or whatever they’re calling it now) in his car … Pauline, Sean and Susanna and, latterly, Sinead ran around outside, playing ‘ice and snow’.

11/4/99 – Sean gave us coffee in bed … I made pancakes for Sean and Susanna from the rest of the corn dog batter … Sean was elated at having finally got to the next level of Hercules, after a lot of trying.

12/4/99 – Pauline went to Kells to supervise the kids’ swimming lessons – they went on the bus, and enjoyed the swimming. Sean had feared that he would have forgotten how, but he had no problem. Pauline did cauliflower cheese for dinner, and we actually got Sean to eat a fair bit – we’re determined to broaden his diet.

15/4/99 – Sean came home from school with his two top middle front missing – they’d been knocked out by a football, but were ready to fall out in any case. He looks very different without them … Sean and I messed about with a Rubik cube that one of his friends had loaned him. One of his bottom front teeth fell out – he left all three under the pillow, but managed to lose them.

17/4/99 – Sean had lost a fourth tooth.

19/4/99 – I had a walk up the fields and then took the kids and Tiger into the first field across the stream – they were fascinated by the 16 inquisitive bullocks, which had followed me closely earlier.

26/4/99 – The four of us played Chinese chequers, and I showed Sean how to play chess, on a crummy little plastic set.

27/4/99 – The kids had a great time running around with Sinead and sometimes Pauline … I played chess with Sean again.

1/5/99 – We stopped in Newry to do the shopping … bought a shirt, trousers and shoes for Sean for his first holy communion.

2/5/99 – We dressed Sean and Susanna up, Sean in his communion clothes, and took them to see Peter [in hospital]. He was delighted to see them. Susanna was a bit shy, but Sean rose to the occasion with jokes.

5/5/99 – Pauline had her hair cut in Virginia – it’s shorter than it has been for a long time, and Sean and Susanna weren’t too impressed.

8/5/99 – We got ready and went to the church by St Attracta’s, and Sean duly made his first holy communion with a lot of other kids. The ceremony was quite moving – the priest was very good, far better than the norm, and everything was done with St Attracta’s usual flair. [later] A very successful day. Sean is still very popular among his old friends in Dublin and their parents, and has several invitations to stay.

10/5/99 – Sean and Susanna got up some time after I’d put them to bed, Sean saying he had too much energy to sleep, and I let them watch the end of a programme on earthquakes.

12/5/99 – I had a game of chess with Sean.

17/5/99 – Played some pool with Sean.

19/5/99 – Someone called ‘The Joker’ did a magic show at Sean and Susanna’s school, which they enjoyed greatly …. we all had a walk up the fields – it was a beautiful evening.

20/5/99 – We all had a walk up the fields (including Tiger, diverted into a bush by the cattle).

21/5/99 – Sean got full marks on his spelling test, not for the first time. He’s well up with the class standard on everything except Irish, which needs more work.

26/5/99 – Watched the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Man Utd later, which Utd stole with two injury-time goals, to Sean’s unbridled joy. The last time they won it I was his age, almost exactly.

27/5/99 – While I was writing yesterday’s account in my diary, I noticed a tractor driving along rather fast on the road. I saw it go up in the air and turn over, and rushed out to help the driver, a young chap called Ryan from Leeds who is living with his aunt and uncle.

28/5/99 – Susanna came in to us in the middle of the night (she couldn’t sleep because of her ‘thinkings’) and Pauline ended up sleeping with her; then Tiger kept us awake with his mewing for the second night in a row.

30/5/99 – Susanna had been playing an ‘editing’ game: taking a couple of sheets of my scrap work and laboriously crossing out words or parts of words, making insertions, circled instructions and so on. She’s done this before, though we’ve never spoken about it – she takes everything in.



Filed under Death, Ireland, Memories, Stories

22 responses to “Some diary entries … March to May 1999

  1. Another film of happy family life. Sometimes people embellish and idealize the past. Your diaries show that your past really was a very nice place and that you gave your children a beautiful childhood. We have mentioned the idea of halcyon days before. How magical to play with calves and a cat in a field before going to school. When you read your diaries do you remember things that you had forgotten, or do you remember everything without the writing?

    There are other things beneath the bliss of course – children do see and think about death. Children do have ‘thinkings’ and nightmares. They are conscious of the complexity of life very early on, I think.

    You all look very smart in the photograph. Even the hedge looks smart!

    • Hello Cymbeline. Yes, we were talking today about how much the children loved living in the country when young. At this time we had been in the country for less than a year … we were living in a rented bungalow, and life was very pleasant as we adapted to our new surroundings. There was a mound of topsoil and a ‘swamp’ that formed a kind of adventure playground. Our neighbour Sinead was around 13 at this time, and used to come over and play with S & S. We were lucky to have good neighbours from the start. There was no fence at first, as I may have mentioned, and the cattle were free to come right up to the house.

      There is a great deal in my diaries that I had forgotten … it is strange to read it, as if it had happened to someone else. And sometimes the memories I do have are not quite accurate when placed beside the contemporaneous account. I’m glad I kept those diaries. We had forgotten the ‘death’ conversation … Pauline was wondering whether Sean might have said anything else on the topic of who would die first.

      The photo was taken in Dublin on Sean’s first communion day, as you may have guessed.

  2. Cymbeline

    Yes, I had gathered that the photo was taken on Sean’s first communion day. For one who professes dislike of organized religion, you have a lot more to do with it than I do 😉

    Your diaries are very special. They are made up of unadorned, straightforward sentences and are clearly factual, yet the overall effect is always deeply poetic. You have a natural eye for symbolism.The diaries also serve as a reference point for you. The diaries, combined with the memories that are not quite accurate are surely a very powerful tool indeed, enabling you to re-visit the past at will. Not-quite-accurate memories are a form of truth too. Perhaps they are the memory of the atmosphere. You also have the photographic record taken by Pauline. Have you ever thought about writing a book using the diaries, the memories and the photographs?

    I liked the way your father telephoned to say that he was enjoying the book, twenty years after you gave it to him. That is the wonder of the written word. And of course, the content of the book was over a hundred years old then. You mention Kells. That made me think of books and pictures too, of course.

    • Thanks, Cymbeline … yes, quite a lot to do with organized religion, but I call it ‘tolerating ambiguity’ and pat myself on the back. We Irish are awfully devious after 800 years of colonization. 🙂

      Pauline did take a lot of photos, especially of the children, and it’s great to have them now. She sometimes regrets that she’s not in very many of them, as she was generally behind the camera, but she is in some. It’s a pity we don’t some some high-quality studies of Sean in the final phase of his life, as we have near its beginning, but at the same time we’re lucky to have what we do have.

      Pauline was saying that, with ‘Kindle’ technology, it should be possible soon to have ‘books’ including music that you can listen to while you read. That might be an interesting project. I might like to publish a book based on this blog at some point, including diaries etc. and perhaps accounts/stories of Sean from people that knew him. But if so, I would like to do it in a way that would have quite broad appeal – I wouldn’t want to do it just for a handful of people.

      My father was a great lover of the English language, as was my mother.

      • On the Book of Kells … President Mary McAleese is handing over to the state all the gifts she received while president. The most valuable is a facsimile of the Book of Kells. Another item will be a stained-glass lamp made by Pauline, presented to the president when she visited our community some years back.

        • Cymbeline

          That’s brilliant; having something one has made being handled and exchanged at the highest levels of state.

          If you do publish a book, and if you do want it to have broad appeal, you should write it with a broad brush ie the story of your whole family with a backdrop of Ireland and Irish history. This does not mean that the subject would be shifting from Sean, it means rather that Sean’s life would be understood within a wider framework.

          That’s what I think anyway.

        • Interesting idea. I should have tried to find out more about my family background while my parents were alive to tell what they knew, but one can always research these things.

          Time will tell.

  3. Cymbeline

    There is something deep and ancient about Sean’s nightmare of Tiger becoming a chimpanzee – ancient in the classical sense. Ovid and Metamorphoses. A dream and a theme as old as humanity, perhaps reflecting the fact that the world is in a constant state of change, sometimes frightening. Children know these things instinctively.

    I have been reading a book by Alexandra Fuller. On the cover of the book there is a black-and-white photograph of a little girl sitting on an African lawn with her friend and pet, who happens to be a chimpanzee. It is actually this book that made me think of the book idea I mention above.

    There is something very ancient about Susanna playing at editing too. The lines and circles and crosses of transforming words into something more. Metamorphosis again.

    • Again, interesting thoughts. Thanks, Cymbeline. Lines and circles and crosses are on rocks near our house, marked by people 5000 years ago. Pauline and a couple of others went to photograph them a few weeks ago, and were harassed by an aggressive goat.

      • Cymbeline

        Perhaps the goat was really Tuan Mac Cairill.

        • Tuan’s name wasn’t familiar, but I had heard his story or similar (and a very good one it is). There’s quite a bit about him in my Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, which notes that ‘Here we have the full story of those metamorphoses which are common to Welsh and Irish story and are purely pagan in origin but overlaid by Christian interpolations’.

          So yes … the goat was probably Tuan. (Rectangular pupils – what’s the deal with that?) It scared the wits out of one small child present, and a retreat was beaten amid screams and screeches.

        • Cymbeline

          The fact that Tuan turned back into a salmon after having been eaten as a salmon made me think of the story of Sean’s fish escaping when he was proudly brandishing it to the people on the bridge. Stories have a knack of turning into something else when we least expect them to.

          I was unfamiliar with the precise Tuan Mac Cairill story, so I looked it up. He was also a stag, a wild boar and an eagle before becoming a salmon. One of my daughters has Blodeuwedd as a middle name. She was turned into flowers and then an owl.

          Yes, frightening animal pupils. I once had an interview with a woman who had panther eyes. At that time, I was unaware of the new animal contact lenses. Freaked me out, but I remained outwardly calm.

        • And Tuan is an anagram of ‘tuna’ … spooky or what?

          Blodeuwedd is a great name. The owl and flowers seem to ring a bell. In the Ramayana there is a story about a quarrel between an owl and a vulture as to which was the older species. Rama decided in favour of the owl (I know this because it is in the book I mentioned, beside Tuan’s story). There was a lot of stuff from the Ramayana in a Jungian book for which I compiled an index recently. I read a lot of stories about Rama in books from the local library when I was a child.

          ‘Frightening animal pupils’ … it’s like overhearing teachers talk.

  4. Cymbeline

    I don’t know much about the Ramayana, aIthough I had of course heard of it.

    I see that it means ‘Rama’s Journey’ in Sanskrit. I suppose that all great literature is to do with the human journey in one way or another.

    • Yes, I think so. Funnily enough, I was just doing some work on a song called ‘The Road’ based on the same kind of idea … not much more than an idea at this stage.

  5. A poem by our next president:

    When will my time come?

    When will my time come for scenery
    And will it be too late?
    After all
    Decades ago I was never able
    To get excited
    About filling the lungs with ozone
    On Salthill Prom.

    And when the strangers
    To whom I gave a lift
    Spoke to me of the extraordinary
    Light in the Western sky;
    I often missed its changes.
    And, later, when words were required
    To intervene at the opening of Art Exhibitions,
    It was not the same.

    What is this tyranny of head that stifles
    The eyes, the senses,
    All play on the strings of the heart.

    And, if there is a healing,
    It is in the depth of a silence,
    Whose plumbed depths require
    A journey through realms of pain
    That must be faced alone.
    The hero, setting out,
    Will meet an ally at a crucial moment.
    But the journey home
    Is mostly alone.

    When my time comes
    I will have made my journey
    And through all my senses will explode
    The evidence of light
    And air and water, fire and earth.

    I live for that moment.

    • Good evening Brendano. I read the poem the first time and thought it was a sort of death wish – longing for the end in order to make sense of the life led. I then saw that it does not necessarily mean that – ‘when my time comes’ can also be seen as the pinnacle from which the road can be surveyed and therefore made sense of.

      The trouble with pinnacles is that you never really know when you are on the final pinnacle. I have never had much time for the expression ‘all’s well that ends well’. How do you know that it is the end?

      Artistically, it is a very good poem. I like the ordinary details interspersed with the higher thinking. I also like the expression ‘the tyranny of head’. It is true that the head often stops us from enjoying the apparently ordinary.

      • Good evening, Cymbeline. I saw this on the Guardian website, read it, liked it, and thought I would post it here in honour of Michael D. Higgins (I voted for him and am delighted that he will be president …. he is a good egg).

        Thinking too much or too habitually to enjoy what’s around us is an easy trap to fall into, I think. There can be a kind of membrane of thoughts between the world and oneself.

        • I deliberately did not read about him so that I would be able to read the poem without the interference of biography.

          Yes, looking at the Wikipedia entry, I see that he is indeed a good egg. Justice with peace. I see too that he criticized a journalist in 2005 for keeping just inside the boundaries of prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. Interesting that he has written about many parts of the world including Montserrat in the Caribbean. I like the fact that he is an Irish speaker, although that is obviously none of my business anyway, as I am not Irish and he is not my president.

          As so often, I see that he has an Irish name too. When I say Irish name, that includes the surname. What is the story of these double English/Irish names?

          Congratulations on your new president.

      • Thanks, Cymbeline. It’s nice to have, at the very least, a president who isn’t an embarrassment. We’ve always managed to have non-embarrassing ones before, so I’m glad the trend has continued.

        If a name was originally Irish (or Norman), it will have Irish and anglicized versions. The Irish versions of originally Norman names have ‘de’ in them – for example, Burke = de Burca; Cleary = de Cléirigh. There will be Irish versions of international forenames, e.g. Seán = John – Johann etc.

        My name in Irish is Breandán Ó Briain … Ó coming from Ua – ‘grandson of’, as no doubt I told you before.

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