Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Pieces not accepted by Sunday Miscellany #4

Another Piece not taken by Sunday Miscellany.
Moving in Irish Circles

My grandmother, Dorothy Driscoll was Irish, or that’s what I was always told. She raised her family to be proud of their Irish roots. Rebel songs and sentimental ballads were sung in the house. Intricate yarns were spun when they visited their huge family of relatives in the East End of London. I never met her; she died long before I was born. She married a Kent man before the First World War and raised a family of nine children, the second youngest my mother. Dorothy was a practising catholic but the nearest catholic church was a train ride away in Maidstone. She only went to mass once a month and most of her children were baptised at the local Church of England church.

Family legend said the Driscolls came from Cork. They emigrated to England sometime after the famine and found work digging the London underground as Navvies. I think of them when I’m in London and descend on those long escalators to the Piccadilly line, the deepest and first to be dug.

Her Irish roots must have been in her mind when my mother travelled with her future husband and his parents to West Cork in 1959. They ambled in a horse-drawn caravan and along the narrow roads, stopping in the small towns. They visited pubs and stone circles and set up camp in the fields. My parents bought their engagement ring in a jeweller’s shop in Bandon. My grandmother, though raised Church of England, dabbled with the catholic church and, ever the chameleon, started to speak with a stage Irish brogue which mortified my mother and probably confused or amused the locals. She insisted on stopping to genuflect at every roadside shrine, holy well and grotto. This was did not slow them down as they were only travelling at four miles an hour.

The photos they took on their little box Brownie show a different world to today. One picture in particular intrigued me when I was young. It was a donkey cart with milk churns parked outside a pub in a small town called Rosscarbery. I considered it the absolute dark ages.

When I met and married a young, brown-eyed engineer from that town in 1988, we thought the family had come full circle. The photos were brought to Ireland to show the new in-laws and my parents visited West Cork for the second time. We found the original jeweller’s shop in Bandon and showed them the ring. We drank in the same pub in the same square in Rosscarbery and talked about coincidences. My mother recalled watching a picture show in the parish hall, filmed around the locality. Whenever somebody in the audience came on the screen, they stood up and took a bow. My father-in-law had seen it many times. It used to be shown every summer. I wonder where that film is now.

Recently I became interested in genealogy, an art, not a science as I discovered. I traced my grandmother Dorothy Driscoll’s birth not to Ireland but to West Ham in Essex on the east side of London. I was disappointed. I could no longer claim to be available for the Irish football team. Dorothy’s mother, Emma, whom my aunt swore spoke with a strong Irish accent, turned out to come from Burton on Trent. Believe me, a Staffordshire accent is as far removed from the West Cork accent of my in-laws as a glass of Guinness is from Burton ale. It’s still the same language but that’s about it.

Emma Driscoll was a fervent mass-goer but she was baptised and raised Church of England. Dabbling with the church seems to run in both sides of my family.
Struggling through old census forms and birth certificates, deciphering the faded scrawls from more than a century ago, I pieced together the generations of Driscolls moving around the East End. Emma’s husband, my Great Grandfather was Edward Driscoll, a gas stoker born in West Ham; his father Edward senior, a shoemaker, born in Ireland. I struck lucky using a marriage certificate and the 1861 census in Bexley Heath in Kent. Edward Driscoll was born around 1837 in Ardfield, county Cork, only 4 miles from Rosscarbery. Another Irish family circle has been completed.


Roxy said...

Your grandmother sounds like a lovely and very interesting person indeed. I would give anything to listen to someone with a West Cork accent for a solid day! It's so fun to pick up speech patterns. Dialect tapes were my favorite helps in college when I taught speech class. Now, I'm back teaching little ones, and some days, I wish I had those tapes back to learn from. :-) Good memories!

Emerging Writer said...

This is for Richard who left a comment and wants it unpublished.

Thanks for dropping by. Glad you like the blog.

In answer to you questions, I had two grandmothers, one Dorothy I never met who was raised catholic, one Anglican who dabbled.

90K is average but 70K is better than a 90K book that should have been 70K but was padded.

Molly Keane has one prize and that's it so I can't see the point and anyway, I don't have a buffed story of the right length right now. I'll leave the field open for you!

What's the Radio One competition you were shortlisted for?

Always glad to get comments.

Richard said...

The RTE Radio One short story comp. I'm constantly checking to see what media outlets carry the shortlist and mention of the prize ceremony and you're one of the few sites that mentions it apart from RTE. I was delighted when I got the phone call, but then the producer told me the prize-giving ceremony is on Apr 1st. So checking what sites hold the shortlist isn't down to narcissism; it's more about paranoia that the whole thing is some elaborate April Fools' joke. Apologies for not reading your piece closely enough to note that it was his parents rather than hers who went to Cork. I'd like to think that I write better than I read. Thanks for your response.

Emerging Writer said...

Many congratulations on your Francis MacManus and finges crossed for Tuesday. I'll definately listen to your story when they broadcast it.