Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Getting Offside

The Kerry sister was wanting to do a bit of decorating for Matty. Dutifully I asked if she would like me to help her. She requested, instead, that I take Matty out for the day so that she could get on with it.

So we headed in the direction of Tyrone stopping first for coffee in Draperstown. When I used to be a market trader I'd visit Draperstown twice a month. I'd always liked the town's wide streets and the way it sits among the foothills of the Sperrins. I loved the soft voices of the people. I came across my first transvestite in Draperstown. Wearing a cheap wig and a dowdy cloth coat she was far from glamorous but she did have a quiet dignity. I never felt the need to laugh at her anyway.

While we were there Matty said she wanted to have a look at some shops. She led me into the most old-fashioned hardware shop in the world. The only objects there that could possibly have held the slightest interest for me were some Pyrex measuring jugs. 'Can I help you?' ventured the young assistant. 'No, just looking.' I replied. Looking at what? Coils of rope? Shovels? Galvanised buckets? Then Matty piped up, 'But I thought this was a dress shop.'

Onwards to Tyrone - Land of my Ancestors

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Matty's parents came from Tyrone. Granda's family were from Moy and Granny was born in Newtownstewart. While Granda's people had migrated to Belfast in search of work Granny spent her childhood in Plumbridge. There were cousins in Gortin so it was to Gortin we went as Matty was remembering a wonderful holiday she and her sister had spent there, in the summer of 1947, as the guests of their mother's cousin Mamie. We found the road where Mamie had lived but the lane was overgrown and the cottage long gone.

This is one of the joys of driving Matty around. She starts remembering and telling stories. And as this journey was one she had taken on many occasions with Daddy some of the stories were very poignant. Once again I listened to the stories about their meeting and courtship. She told me about the funny sayings and silly games they enjoyed as they travelled about. She told me all about the wonderful holiday she'd had with Mamie. This had been her first parting from Daddy since they'd started going out and she'd written to him three times in two weeks. 'Did he write back?' I asked. 'Not atall,' she said, 'Sure he never wrote a letter in his life.' Apparently she'd written to him to reassure him that she hadn't gone off with some Tyrone boy. For according to Matty, and I do not doubt her, she was very popular with boys in her young days.

Hearing Matty tell her stories I sometimes feel envious of the times she lived in. That holiday to Gortin, 60 long miles from home, was such a novelty for her. She told a story about her sister and herself, out on their borrowed bikes and getting themselves lost, meeting a group of young, kilted men, also on bicycles, who were on their way back from Twelfth of July celebrations. She said that these fellows escorted them to the right road and said how exotic it was to be riding along with a troop of Protestant boys in kilts and how this would have been unthinkable behaviour at home.

Matty and I behaved very well in Tyrone. We waved at passers-by and were extremely courteous on the road. 'After all,' Matty said, 'Anyone here might be your cousin.'

On the way home Matty asked me, 'Do you ever look at the clouds and imagine you can see pictures in them?' I said, 'Not while I'm driving.'

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