On a recent visit to the local hospital on a purely routine matter, the Irish nurse, after welcoming Tilly and myself, looked at me in mock severity and said, " And I want no old Blarney from you today." I protested that I hadn't said a word, and she explained that she had been reading some of my satirical medical jokes, in cancer charitiesí magazines, and some supply company's journals.
She had been born in County Cork, Southern Ireland, very close to where my maternal grandmother Emma Oliver, had been born, and they both had that marvellous lilt when talking. Strangely, of my four grandparents, my paternal grandfather also came from Ireland, from the town of New Ross, but they came to England under completely different circumstances.
My grandmother was aged five, in 1864, when she walked barefoot with her parents to the harbour at Cork, to escape the dreadful potato famine, which was killing thousands through starvation, to sail to England and a new life. My grandfather aged eighteen, came to join the army, the Royal Horse Artillery, and eventually his regiment was posted to India for fifteen years. When he returned he had risen through the ranks to become the Regimental Sergeant Major. Our two islands have been so closely connected for hundreds of years that in most English people there is a trace of Irish blood. Maybe I was blessed to be a writer, or teller of stories, in that some ancestor was dangled over the castle wall at Blarney in order to kiss the stone?
I decided to write of my grandmother, who died at the age of ninety, and I was far away in the desert, but she said good-bye to me in her own special way. I wrote this poem about her.
What a wonderful lady, my grandmother was.
What stories she told to me, because,
of our special affinity, our bond so real.
Her joy I could hear, her pain I could feel.
The famine in Ireland, came to everyone's door,
and as a five year old in sixty four,
she walked barefoot, with her parents beside,
to the harbour at Cork, where the ships they did ride.
The masts she first saw, from the top of the hill,
the sails all furled up, with the evening so still.
The sparkling sea, the vision so grand.
The new life that beckoned, in the promised land.
Her motherís tears, as she gazed far behind,
and thought of four sons, for whom her heart pined.
Left in a seminary, to be clothed and be fed.
Cared for by priests, in Godís path to be led.
Those four brothers, all priests they became.
Gone from her life, but she loved them the same.
That sweet dear old lady, with laughter in her eyes,
and that special Irish lilt, of that lady wise.
The stories that she told me, whilst sitting at her knee,
of love and hope and freedom, have always guided me.
She died when she was ninety, and I was far away.
But she said goodbye to me, in her special Irish way.
Thinking of home, and her one night, watching the stars on high,
at the moment when she passed away, and her spirit soared into the sky.
On that desert dune we watched the stars, when we saw one fall to earth.
"Where's that fallen?" my comrade asked. "Why to the land of my grandma's birth!"