Memories Of My Enniscorthy Granny

I'm writing this on a chilly evening in Tí Neillí Mhuiris after a long day spent making arrangements for an Irish book signing tour. Hours on the phone talking to lovely, welcoming booksellers, eager to advise me where to park when Wilf and I arrive in Cork, Clonmel, Wexford or Waterford next week. Emails confirming dates. Updates on local radio slots. Interviews with local newspapers. Piles of notes on my desk waiting to become the orderly schedule I always need to type out for myself before we set off.

But now, with a glass of wine by my elbow, I'm able to think past logistics to the joy that's to come. This time next week I'll be back in the soft green landscape of Wexford amongst memories of my Enniscorthy granny, a tiny, gentle lady who marched through life with the courageous motto that one should always 'keep the best side out.'

In Chapter Five of The House on an Irish Hillside I write about the starched cloth on the polished table where we had tea when we visited Enniscorthy; granny's own mother’s blue and white china, patterned with roses; and pink biscuits in a cut glass biscuit barrel. For some reason, they were known as ‘curly-wees’. I remember gooseberry jam, made with fruit from granny's garden, and ‘country butter’ served on thin slices of brown soda bread.

Granny's house in Enniscorthy was built on a hill and the long garden had a raised terrace running along one side. I remember conifers, and tall ivory-coloured lilies on thick green stems, with golden stamens and petals like curled vellum powdered with pollen. There were flag­stones outside the kitchen door and a path that ran down the garden to apple trees and fruit bushes.

One day, when I was four or five, I was sent out to play. Running at full tilt, I tripped on a stone and landed flat on my front in a puddle. I can remember my nose streaming and the salty taste of tears as I stumbled, dripping, back up the path and into the kitchen. After I was washed, dried and put into a clean frock, I was given a curly-wee and told to sit on the doorstep while my damp socks were hung by the fire. Granny left me there with a kiss and one of her brisk, ritual sayings. ‘It’s-all-over-now-throw-my-hat-in-the-sky!’ I never quite knew what that meant, but my mother used to say it too when things had gone wrong and it was immeasurably comforting.

Later, the three of us walked down the garden together, the mother, the child and the old woman. I remember the strength of their hands as they swung me across the puddle, and standing between them as we counted the hard, green apples setting on the apple trees. The same trees are still there today. Spring blossom still sets on their gnarled branches, now propped with stakes and powdered with grey lichen.

Each autumn when I was a child, Granny sent boxes of apples on the train from Enniscorthy to Dublin, carefully tied with twine and addressed to my mother, ‘to be collected’. I remember learning to make apple tart in our kitchen in Dublin, the print of my mother's thumb crimping the edges, and the mark of her wedding ring on the pastry scraps she’d flatten with her hand and pinch into leaves for decoration. When I look down at my hands as I type this I can see that ring on my own finger.

Next week as I sit signing copies in a Wexford bookshop, I'll be thinking of my granny. Wexford's only about fifteen miles from Enniscorthy but going there after she was widowed meant a lonely, daunting trip to the big city. I still remember her tiny, upright figure, shining buttoned shoes, and the jaunty tilt of her hat as she walked down the hill to the station, shoulders back, head up, keeping the best side out. 

And sitting here now I realise I'm just a bit daunted myself. Booksignings are like that. You wonder if people will come. If they've liked your book. If you'll spill your coffee or your pen will leak. You worry that you'll lose your schedule or the car keys or forget how to spell your own name. 

But my granny had another saying, ritually produced whenever I got shy before a party. 'You'll-love-it-when-you-get-there-so-you-will.' And I know she's right. I've never arrived at a signing to anything but broad smiles and cheerful welcomes. It's great to meet friendly readers, hear fascinating stories, and put faces to names you've only known from Twitter or Facebook, or from warm, perceptive comments on your blog. 

In fact the only daunting thing is crossing so many new thresholds. And that's just a matter of keeping your shoulders back, head up, and the best side out.

I'll be signing copies of The House on an Irish Hillside in Cork Thurs. Nov 8th Easons, Patrick St. 12.00 noon/ Mahon Shopping Centre 2.30pm: Wexford Fri. Nov 9th The Book Centre, South Main St. 2.00pm: Waterford Sat Nov 10th The Book Centre John Robert Sq. 11.00am: Clonmel Sat Nov 10th Easons, Gladstone St. 3.30pm.


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