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  • Home to Ring
  • Catherine Foley

Ever since we moved to the Ring Gaeltacht when I was eleven, I’ve been trying to reconcile two worlds: my early childhood years, with the impressions of holidays, grandparents, and the self-deprecating tones and tensions of a repressed Irish city, and my teenage years in a different, starkly beautiful landscape with a different culture and a different language, where life was deeply felt and tinged with the poetry of the past.

When we lived in Waterford, I was a quiet little girl in a frock with sandals and white socks. Back then, I stood quietly to listen when spoken to. I kept my feet together and if we had visitors I sat with my hands together in my lap. My fringe fell like a dark silky curtain down over my forehead. I was the first child. I was nervous, and often played alone with my dolls behind my mother’s chair in the kitchen, or played in the garden with my two young sisters, RoseAnne and Miriam.

In Waterford City, there were almost no empty spaces: we were restricted by laurel hedges and tiled hallways, stone steps and wrought-iron railings. There were streets of houses going off at every right-angled direction. Even the sky was confining: looking up one day, I saw the vapor trail of a plane arching over the sky. We lived in a house called “Corsica” at 49 Lower Newtown in Waterford City, on an elegantly curved street of three-story Edwardian houses. They were tall and dour, peering over lower houses across the street and the People’s Park further down below that again. From the attic we could see slated roofs, terracotta chimney pots, spires and turreted towers reaching off into the future, stretching away from us like an uneven battlefield.

On the street, my sisters, myself, and neighboring children would mark out hopscotch boxes on the slate footpaths. We’d hop away all morning, going from box number one to three to five to nine, then turning to go down again. If it rained, the boxes were washed away and we were called in. The gray turned to navy and the drops poured steadily onto the city. After the rain, boys and girls [End Page 9] would run out and chase each other from gateway to gateway, step to step, corner to corner. Pushing and shouting at one another was customary, almost obligatory behavior for a child in the city but stone-throwing was a serious business, a reason to fight.

My job at home was to polish the brasses on the front door each Saturday. I stood on a little chair and rubbed the pointed fixtures with the rag my mother gave me, and hated the task. On sunny days, we had tea sets to play with in the garden and we chatted through a hole in the hedge with the neighbors next door. We poured imaginary tea for each other, passing little blue cups with make-believe sandwiches back and forth, mimicking voices of urbanity and civility: “O, do have another one.”“O, I couldn’t possibly.”We had private piano lessons and elocution lessons at school. I read and loved Enid Blyton books, in which children at English boarding schools got in and out of adventures without much adult interference. My mother and father went out each Saturday night to the Three Shippes to meet friends, dressing up and standing at the hall door to say goodnight to us and our grandfather who was babysitting. We watched them leave from the stairway, starry-eyed with love for the handsome couple, and longing to be taken along.

One day in the Spring of 1970, my sisters and I were playing like raggedy urchins in the street when my two aunts Sheila and Gile came to put a proposition to my parents. Their boxy Vauxhall pulled up outside our gate. We all stopped to stare at the car and the two posh women we hardly knew go through our gate to knock at the door. My life changed after that.

They had come to suggest that my father move west to Ring, to the...


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