From here to Clare

  • 22 December 2004
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Eithne Earley-Jenkerson writes on Seamus Heaney's poem Postscript, Israel and her return to Ireland.

I remember exactly where I was standing when I read Seamus Heaney's poem Postscript for the first time. My sister-in-law had found a website with a good deal on books and she ordered up Seamus Heaney's Opened Ground and Paul Theroux's heartsore Sir Vidia's Shadow for me. And I trawled them both home from work, heavy paperbacks, quite a burden for me on that hot day in beautiful Haifa.

I fed the cat, stripped off, showered, dressed enough to be decent, opened the balcony window, let the breeze in from the Mediterranean, watered the bougainvillea and hibiscus, got a drink and commenced Heaney's book, from the back, as one does with any good book. And there standing in the breeze, halfway between the table and the armchair, read Postscript. And stood there for maybe an hour. Blown open.

I didn't know where the Flaggy Shore was. Imagined that maybe it must be on that road up from Loop Head where we stopped a man once to ascertain the whereabouts of the cemetery at Kilbaha. He wanted news too. "Where are ye from?" he asked. "We live in Israel," said my husband. The man just waited. Shamefacedly, I came clean. "I'm from Crusheen," I said. He thought a bit about it. "That," he pronounced, "would be in East Clare." It isn't but it could be and it didn't matter, he had us placed.

When you take the 'plane out of Ireland for work or love or you know not what, you don't know then but you will never belong again. In the beginning, it's fine. You come home every year and there are the piles of Clare Champions to be read, and read them you do, with your legs in the bed getting weighed down with the weight of each discarded one and your fingers covered in newsprint. You will be quizzed on it later at the kitchen table. There will be an odd issue missing and those will be the ones that had been posted to you, tied up expertly with the bit of string, and the letter and the fiver safety pinned on an inner page, right inside in the heart of it, near Lissycasey Notes and the like.

But after a while you lose your hold. You recognise fewer and fewer names in the paper and as the years go by, you pass neighbours in the street unrecognised. Meanwhile, abroad, in your real home now, you are striving to weave the threads of love and marriage and miscarriage and birth. And those you love, who can place you, won't be there and you go through it without them and then you're changed. In a few short years, you'll be collapsing at the end of the day, reading The Jerusalem Post or whatever newspaper reigns in your new found land.

And then, for love, or money, or because you are half mad from putting your only child on a bus to Tel Aviv when suicide bombers are routinely hitting towns on either side of the highway, you come home. You think you come home but, the thing is, you haven't. It's not home. And besides, you are not the same you anymore. When someone called my name on the street in Ennis, I thought "She can't possibly be calling me", but I turned and it was Olga from Belarus. I am at home among the refugees. We talk of schools and housing and untangle the web together.

When our shipment arrived way before we expected it and the Israeli shipping company had not sent the papers for customs in time, the whole thing was held up in Dublin while a customs official made us jump through hoops and get a garda to sign that we were "kosher". Two of us had Irish passports and one a UK one, but no matter. When you are separated from your stuff you are in no mood for a battle. It's more a case of "I need my potato peeler, show me the hoop you want me to jump through, you demented bureaucrat, and I will jump back and forth through it and sing 'The Cliffs of Dooneen' at the same time".

It involved taking myself and my husband and our daughter into the Garda station where we were interviewed in a room which, inexplicably, had many sets of naked wires poking out of the walls. Our marriage certificate was viewed and the somewhat bemused garda signed the necessary release. And next day, as I walked past the hospital where I was born and the mortuary where my father was laid out, I was bawling my eyes out. What a wuss I was.

And now I am up in Dublin from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. Occasionally, the husband and teenager come up for the weekend. He'll be doing work here and there and herself and myself will join the dads and kids in Eddie Rockets on Baggot Street for breakfast. A Rooster Booster, with the scrambled egg done really well. Afterwards we will browse and I will point out to her where Parson's bookshop is and how Patrick Kavanagh wandered these streets. We'll go into Weir's and suss out the teddy bears.

If I am not mistaken it was in Weir's I bought a hairdryer it 1983. I was with my friend Dorothy, and in a matter of days I would go off to live in Israel. The man who sold it to us was elderly and tall and had a dignity about him. We sought to place him and turned out he came from Sliabh Luchra. Dor genuflected, paying him the respect the place and name and his dignity deserved. And he smilingly accepted. He'd be long gone now. But my hairdryer is still working, every morning for 21 years.

Later we will have a farewell trip to Bewley's and we'll buy a packet of coffee for Brian who loves Bewley's with a passion but who is living with his wife in Trump Towers in West Palm Beach, Florida now. He reads The Irish Times on the web, the subscription a birthday present from me and Dorothy and Annie from Kikenny. But it's me who's paying the price, having to read his email pronouncements about Ireland, quoting bits of Fintan O'Toole. God almighty! The daughter is mighty impressed with Brown Thomas. Shows me a dress she saw Samantha Mumba wearing in a magazine. Her Dad tells me later that she slept most of the way home and woke around Moneygall and told him she was dreaming of Jimmy Choo shoes.

Come four o'clock on Friday, I'll be scurrying along with my wee trolley suitcase, bearing down on the taxi rank outside the Burlington for the Friday snarl of traffic to Heuston Station. "Where are you off to?" the taxi driver will ask before launching into a diatribe against George Bush. "I'm going home," I'll reply. I'm getting off at Ennis station and I'll get a kiss from each of them. And I will be maddened for the umpteenth time by the awful mouldy bus shelter which they preserved while letting the West Clare Railway Engine be hauled away with brave Oliver Moylan clinging to its roof.

We'll go on a near midnight trip to Tesco and in the aisles you will hear whispered exchanges. The other week they were about the four suicides in the town in two weeks. In August and September, there were three. We talk them up and down until it comes out that some of them couldn't have been intended at all. We try to make it come out better. A man says that a woman shopping in Liddy's burst into tears when she heard of the last one, though she knew neither kith nor kin of any of them. I sit in the car and, passing some of their homes on the way to my home, I whisper prayers to myself. Ennis Cathedral spire is wound around by scaffolding. In the nighttime it looks for all the world like a rocket in its launch pad.

Over the weekend, friends who just came back from Saudi Arabia are coming for dinner. They might be bringing apples from their orchard. We're cooking Persian food. You can get all the bits and bobs for Middle Eastern cuisine in a few shops in Ennis now. Himself and herself and myself with sit at the kitchen table and pull enough leaves off dill and coriander and cheat a little with frozen spinach. There's hummus for sale in the Saturday market and pita to die for in the shop down Mill Road.

Later, if I am lucky, we will take the now beloved drive to the place of my heart, the Flaggy Shore, where the Burren meets Galway Bay. My husband, not a great one for the poems, finally read Heaney's Postscript the other day and, appalled, exclaimed, "But he didn't even get out of the car!" Why do I stay with that man?

The sister-in-law from Texas (don't even get her started on George W) who bought Seamus Heaney's anthology for me on the web came with us to the Flaggy Shore last Christmas. She was on the Atkins diet and loved the fish chowder in Hyland's in Bally-vaughan. And as for me, well, out there on the shore with the limestone stone flags marked by the Ice Age, I am where I wished myself, that day in Israel with Heaney's collection in my hand. In the clothes I stand up in, with no security except love and hope, I am, feck it anyway, home. It's a beginning.