As yesterdays blog exhausted me I am today looking for the easy option and enclose an excerpt from my Memoir written in December 2005 when Ireland was still full of confidence and money, enjoying the ride on the Celtic Tiger’s back.
In September 2005 we put our Manchester house on the market and retired to Boyle in the County Roscommon, our chosen spot. Things were difficult for a while as we slowly realised our assets and we decided to go back to Manchester for Christmas, the last one we would probably spend in our home town, to tie up a few loose ends and make sure the kids were dealing well with our absence. We were getting a little perturbed by the fact that the house was not selling. Bythis time it had been on the market for four months and not a bite. However the Lord was at hand.
Earlier on in that month we visited Helen’s aunt Aggie, a woman I had first met 36 years previously and had always admired. She was at her house in Rooskey, in the townland of Cloonlarhan, a part of Ireland where Mayo and Sligo overlap and nobody knows where they really are. A fact the indigenous relied upon for any number of reasons.
Aggie is a splendid woman approaching her middle eighties and strengthened in her late life by years of hard toil, caring for her late husband Pake, her five children and a herd of milking cows. Her religion kept her young, it made sense of all the tragedies life had thrown at her. She spoke a language that was 80% English and 20% Irish, you have to know her to understand her. She is of a generation that threw away the English yoke that had governed but not broken her breed.
As I have said we had moved to Ireland some months previously, escaping the oppression Manchester was having on us and seeking a new life in which to spend our later years in a land the pair of us considered to be our spiritual home. “Have you sold your house in England?” Aggie asked. The house was a vast Victorian pile, seven bedrooms, built with servants in mind, in an outer Manchester suburb, favoured by the fortunate of those years as it was close to the railway line and far enough away from the stinking, disease ridden, inner areas of the city but handy enough for the managerial and executive positions, that Cottonopolis relied.
No serious buyer had been unearthed and we were begining to weaken in our resolve and starting to admit to ourselves that nobody in their right minds would want such a property. It was like the Forth Bridge in its need of repair and decoration.
“The people hereabouts set great store by St. Joseph” Aggie added when we told her our tale of woe. In her expansion on this theme it seems that the local populace of Maygo as we shall call it, on deciding to sell their house, would bury a statue of St. Joseph, face down, in the garden and, hey presto, the house would sell. This theory had been poorly tested in Maygo as so very few houses changed hands. In this rustic world properties passed from generation to generation until they fell down and another was built. In fact Aggie’s house was built by her father-in-law, Tom Bill Towey, in 1908 after a lucrative spell copper mining in Bute, Montana and before his wedding to Ann Hunt. However Aggie’s beliefs won the day and I was not surprised, when a short time later Helen said that she was going to Carrick, to Mulvey’s, for a statue of St. Joseph. Boyle, our chosen spot, besides not having a proper hotel or restaurant or swimming baths or any proper industrial base, alas has no sacerdotal emporium.
Off she went calling at Lidl, Supervalu, Tesco and other grasping establishments spending the price of one of the many rooms in our Manchester abode. Eventually she arrived at Mulvey’s, a shop set square in the centre of Carrick on Shannon, a bustling boom town, nine miles away. Mulvey’s is a large many faceted shop selling nothing of any real use, but a very needful store through which a lot of the Celtic Tiger’s loose change was channelled.
“I have come for a statue of St. Joseph” Helen stated to the assistant who approached. “Just walk along to the Religious Department and I will send Dympna down to you, she is our expert on these matters. She is out the back.” Helen slowly made her way across the shop to be confronted by a vast serried rank, a rainbow of saints. Dympna appeared brushing imaginary biscuit crumbs off the stately chest of her beautifully embroidered silk blouse. “Well now, I know we have one, I saw him on Tuesday.” The multitude of coloured idols did not faze Dympna as she scanned the holy regiment. “No, he is not there” she said “I will look in the store, he is around somewhere.”
“How can you tell so quickly?” Helen asked, nonplussed by the kaleidoscope of multi-coloured piety. “Well its the colour, you see, they are all the same statue, a fellah in Dublin churns them out of the one mould, but each saint is painted a different colour, St. Patrick is green, St. Francis is brown, and so on, it is only the Infant is different” she said pointing to the top shelf and there sure enough was the familiar triangular statue of the Infant of Prague in his finest red cloak. “What colour is St. Joseph then” Helen enquired of the gliding comfortable rear of the retreating Dympna. “Well he is a lighter shade of brown than Francis, a kind of tan really, but he has a purple gansey” Dympna replied over her shoulder as she entered the store room.
Minutes later she returned clutching a purple figurine. “Well I’m lost, I cannot find him anywhere but I know he is around. However I’ve got St. Anthony here. Let’s just say a prayer to him and Joseph will turn up some time today. Call back after lunch and we will have him for you.” Helen adopted the praying position and mumbled incoherently as Dympna in all her majesty, offered up prayers to Joseph’s wife, in order that her influence would steady Anthony in his quest.
Unfortunately pressing matters of a more secular nature clouded Helen’s path and she returned to Boyle, promising to come back the following day. She told me the story after laying my lunch on the table and we both admired the simplicity of life before us. I retold the story in Daly’s that evening and amid the laughter and the humour i saw a glint of belief in Geraldine’s eye. Geraldine is Paddy Daly’s daughter, who for her sins has to serve the pagan 6o’clock brigade nightly. Paddy who had worked his public house and bottling business for 55 years, was also the local auctioneer. If any one would know the sincerity of this subject, it would be him. At stages in his life he must have sold half the houses in North Roscommon. He could, so the story goes, sell houses to tinkers. “No, never heard that one” he said, when I enquired adding that I had heard it in Mayo an Paddy was after all from Newport way. “It must have been East Mayo you heard it” not wanting to take the blame.
Unsatisfied I finished my pint and went to leave, “Paul, a minute” Geraldine whispered as she came out from behind the bar and escorted me out the door. “I’m going to Sligo tomorrow and I’ll go to Veritas. They will have St. Joseph there. I’ll get him for you.”
Veritas, as you can tell by its title is upmarket holiness personified and not wanting to disappoint, I agreed to her offer. To our surprise the following evening she knocked on our door in Abbeytown clutching an envelope and full of her experiences in Sligo. We ushered her in, sat her down and listened to her story. “I went into Veritas this morning and asked for a statue of St. Joseph and was told that although they had had a consignment of St. Josephs the week before, they were all sold out.”
“You are trying to sell your house are you?” said the assistant matter of factly. “Well no, its for a friend, but yes, their house is up for sale and they are having problems selling it.” “Well it doesn’t matter” the assistant interjected “I have the next best thing and they say it is just as good.” Geraldine pulled out of the envelope a laminated prayer to St. Joseph which contained his picture all neatly done on a pink card and a St. Joseph medal attached to a white ribbon tied in a bow. She apologised that her sortie had not provided better, we thanked her for her efforts and told her she would be thought of when we performed the ceremony in Manchester.
A couple of weeks later with Christmas approaching we arrived in Heaton Moor to spend what we hoped would be our last family Christmas in the city in which we had spent our whole lives. However there was still this despairing feeling about the house.
The goose was cooked and the vegetables ready when Helen and I, our six children, one son-in-law and one grandson trooped from the kitchen to the chosen spot in the garden. I, as my position dictated, with due ceremony and with thoughts of Aggie and Geraldine in mind, dug a hole with a trowel, and buried the medal and laminated card, face downwards. The internment position had been carefully chosen, in front of the Buddha. Some years previously Helen had bought a garden feature in the shape of Buddha and when connected to the electrical supply and a water reservoir would spout the same all day. This feature had not lessened in its performance from day one and we thought that if Joseph had had a bad day at the office, Buddha might just give him that lift.
Our Christmas festivities over, we returned to Ireland in the same state of limbo as we had been in for months. Imagine our surprise a week later, when Katy, our second daughter, shouted excitedly down the telephone, “there is somebody interested in the house!” A month later the house was sold, our fears were put to rest and our offer on a house in Boyle was accepted.
Now there are coincidences and different beliefs, I am saying nothing, but I am awfully glad I met Aggie Towey that Christmas in 1969, and I know for a fact that St. Joseph has had an awful lot of his time taken up recently being buried by the returning wild geese who have become party to this story. Finally I would like to thank Geraldine for persisting when we were running out of steam. THAT WAS TRUE BELIEF.