Thursday, 26 March 2015

Expat-Blog Interview!

"Catherine in Kerry" 

A few months back, I stumbled upon and discovered a community of people from all over the world, who are expats...all over the world!  As a new member, I took part in an interview about my life as an expat in Ireland. The interview gives some insight to what it's like to live in a foreign country, but as I read it back I think I could have gone more in depth. The amount of information I have to convey would require a novel...which I am working on.

So, for this post I'm going to direct you to the expats-blog for Catherine in Kerry.

Catherine Hughes-Teahan

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Paudie Byrne's Wake

Cast a cold Eye on Life
on Death
Horseman pass by.

W.B Yeats

“I still don’t know why I need to go to this funeral.”  I said to my husband when we arrived in the village that balmy summer night.

I was still very new to Ireland, and was only just beginning to realise how important funerals are.  Back in the States, funerals tend to be a very private family business, and a non family member wouldn’t attend unless they knew the deceased very well.  In the rural areas of Ireland, a funeral is a 3 day affair, and the whole Parish will attend to sympathise with the family at either the Rosary, the removal, or the the funeral mass.  I once asked how the family would remember everyone who walked through the funeral home and offered a sympathising handshake, and I was told that they would remember who didn’t show up.

These days, the deceased are kept in the funeral home for the Rosary, and on the second night, they are removed to the church.  The wake in the family home is an old tradition, but there are still a few who, in their final wishes, want to be waked in their home.  The late Paudie Byrne had such a final wish, and was being waked at his home which stood midways in a row of attached houses in the center of the village.  The weather battered, heavy teak door was open, and a few sympathisers lined up to file through the sitting room, where the deceased Paudie Byrne was laid out in an Oak casket.  As I entered the old house, the damp, musty air which seemed to have been trapped inside for years, made me crinkle my nose in attempt to stifle a sneeze.  The doorway to the sitting room was crowded as people attempted to enter and exit after sympathising with the family members, who were seated on a couch and in two arm chairs.  The coffee table had been moved to one corner of the room to make adequate space for the coffin, which was placed in the middle of the tiny room.  My husband went in before me and knelt at the wooden kneeler at the foot end of the coffin.  After his prayer was said, he shook hands with the two older women who were seated on the couch.  I followed and as I shook hands with the lady who appeared to be the older of the two, was surprised when she wouldn’t let go.  Instead she started asking me all sorts of questions, such as, “How do you like it here?”  “Have you settled in yet?”  I found it kind of strange and funny at the same time that family members of the deceased would be asking me so many questions at the funeral.

“Go on, sit down here.”  Her grip became stronger as she pointed to the empty spot on the couch.  The lady next to her smiled and nodded in agreement.  The next few minutes were quiet as more people came in to sympathise.  In front of me, I could see the late Paudie in his coffin all waxed and shiny like a new car.  He had been dressed in his best suit which had probably had been dry cleaned for the occasion.  Wooden Rosary beads, which Paudie had purchased on a trip to Knock, were wrapped around his frail, ashen hands in eternal prayer.  I could hear quiet murmuring out in the hall. “Oh, how we cut the turf with Paudie that year”.

I looked up from Paudie and realised my husband was no longer in the room, and I wondered where he had gone.  I gazed around the room to see an older man, whom I presumed to be Paudie’s brother, falling asleep in an old, faded arm chair.  Directly above him  Pope John Paul II, and JFK smiled down from dusty picture frames on a smoke stained wall.  As I admired JFK’s handsome smile, I was shaken out of the quiet moment by, “So! You must find it different here.”  The two sisters smiled at me, waiting for a reply.  It seemed odd to me, these two sisters of the late Paudie Byrne, who was laid out before us, were so eager to get to know me at a time like this.

“Yes.” I replied softly.

“You’re more used to the town, so.”  Stated the sister who sat furthest from me.

It seemed as though everyone thought I was from a city, and I explained that I was in fact from a country area.  I felt awkward sitting there having this conversation with the mourners. People who came in to sympathise would give me curious looks and when I began to stand up and excuse myself when the undertaker’s wife began to recite the Rosary.  People crowded into the tiny room and the hallway all reciting along with Mrs. Hegarty.  It would be disrespectful to walk out now so I quickly sat back down as the prayer for eternal life began.

“Hail Mary fully of grace the Lord be with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

Almost chant like and monotone, the Hail Mary’s were repeated over and over for each of the glorious mysteries.  Resurrection for faith, Ascension for hope, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, inspiring charity and love.  After what seemed an eternity,  I welcomed a tap on the shoulder from Mrs. Murphy.

“Would you like to come into the kitchen and have a glass of punch?” She asked.

Oh good, I was being saved from this awkward situation, and being offered a funeral?  I envisioned a Crystal punch bowl in the kitchen, complete with sliced fruit and a fancy ladle.  I was soon to discover that “punch” meant hot whiskey.

The kitchen was quite a different atmosphere than the sitting room.  If one would have entered the home through the back door, they would have found a party in full swing, and been completely unaware of the wake in the other room.  Empty bottles of stout sat on the kitchen table and counter tops.  Someone had brought in an extra electric kettle for making pots of tea, and there were a couple of ladies busily putting together platters of various types of sandwiches.  There were relatives of the late Paudie who had travelled from “up the country” and were busy catching up on all the news.  As I was still new to the parish, the interviewing resumed by the people in the kitchen.  Most of them assumed that because I was from the States, that I knew nothing about farm
animals or farming in general.  Several people asked me if I could drive.  A couple of ladies suggested that I find “a little job to get you out of the house.”

An older man, who had probably started drinking very early, was becoming very obnoxious.  He turned me and asked, “Had you ever seen a dead body before?”  His breath reeked of alcohol and made involuntarily back up.  I found the question a little too personal, bringing up tender emotions.  I turned away and began talking to someone else in attempt to ignore him.  “I said have you seen a dead body before?”  He stuck his head into the conversation I was trying to have.  He was not going to go away until he got his answer.  “Well, have you?”  He was clearly going to make a scene and all eyes were on me, all eagerly waiting for my answer.  I don’t know why this was so important for them to know. 

“Yes.” I finally said.  Seeming strangely satisfied in my response, the old fella turned away and started talking with someone else.  I supposed he was happy with this important piece of information he got out of the American girl.  The party continued on and the platters of sandwiches were passed around.

Sometime around midnight someone started the sing song.  That’s when another elderly gentleman asked me, “Do you sing?” and I assured him that I do not sing.  I quickly learned that during a singing session there is a standard etiquette, and that is all chat stops, and everyone listens.  One person stops singing, the chatting starts again, and then “shh shh shhh!” signalling that someone else is about to sing.

The signing went on until the wee hours of the morning, and little by little, people began to quietly leave.  Walking past the sitting room, I saw the two sisters still sitting on the couch, heads bowed.  They seemed to be in prayer, but I suspected that they were dosing.  This wake, as it seemed, was in two parts.  In that quiet sitting room people prayed and kept vigil throughout the night, while in the kitchen the singing and stories about old Paudie and the “grand” times they had was a celebration of the life that was.

Catherine Hughes-Teahan

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Have Yourself a Merry "Little Christmas"

Today I brought down the plastic storage bins from the attic, and began taking down the Christmas decorations.  This is always a bitter sweet chore for me. Sad that once again, my favorite time of the year just flew by, but also looking forward to the new year, like a new beginning.  In Ireland,  the holiday season does not end with New Year's day, but is stretched on a little longer until the 6th of January.  The Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, is recognized for the arrival of the three kings.  Here it is celebrated as "Little Christmas" or "Women's Christmas". Traditionally this is the day all the decorations come down, and after all the hard work that has been done throughout the Christmas season, the girls get a night out.

Back home, we always did all the un-decorating the day after new years day, but after my first Christmas in Ireland many years ago when I attempted to pack away Christmas before the 6th of January, I was met with abounding protests. I was even told it was bad luck! Now, after all these years, to put away the decorations any earlier seems premature. So for today, away with the decor and begin to move forward into the new year!

Merry Little Christmas, everyone.

Catherine Hughes Teahan


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Nollaig Shona!

"May peace and plenty be the first to lift the latch on your door, and happiness be guided to your home by the candle of Chirstmas."

An old Irish proverb.

 It’s that time of the year again, and as this time approaches, my heart aches for home.  In my early years as an expat, it was almost unbearable.  It was pre- facebook, pre-skype, and even pre-email.  I would call my home in Oregon to hear everyone celebrating on the other side of the phone line, the other side of the world.  One by one, my mother, brother, sisters, nieces and nephews would take their turn on the phone to wish me a “Merry Christmas, wish you were here, we miss you”.  This is the price one pays when they decide to live clear across the world.

I've only been home twice for Christmas since I got married and moved to Kerry nearly 20 years ago.  Once, I traveled on my own with my two young boys, flying clear across the Atlantic and then the whole of the United States.  My eldest was a busy 4 year old, and my baby was 10 months old and crawling all over the place!  I don’t know what I would have done without the help of the lovely Aer Lingus flight attendants, who would scoop my little man up into their arms and dance him around the plane.  The second time was in 2005, but unfortunately it was a sad occasion.  It was the year I lost my eldest sister to a brain tumor.  My family went through the motions of what was a very poignant Christmas.

After my children came along, Christmas in Ireland became a little more bearable. With each passing year, every advent sweet eaten and advent candle lit brought excitement to the household.  Though I was still missing the big family gathering back home, I enjoyed watching my children’s delight as they would open their gifts from Santa.  We would then go to the village for mass, which would be full of families with squirming children who were impatient for mass to end so that they could go back home to play with their new toys.   My children are almost grown now, but the routine remains the same.  When the Christmas mass has ended, it is the tradition to go to the cemetery to visit the graves of loved ones, and then home to prepare the dinner which is always ready later in the afternoon.  But the dinner is only for ourselves.  No grand parents, aunts, uncles or cousins to celebrate with us.  I find it very quiet but do my best to keep a festive spirit. 

As much as I may complain about living so far from a city, living in a small, rural area can be magical during the holidays. Every year the Parish gathers to watch the Christmas lights being switched on while singing carols and drinking hot chocolate, and the town is busy every weekend with staff parties and dinners for different clubs and associations.  We all look forward to the festivities, and baby sitters and taxi drivers are kept busy through the entire holiday season.  As far back as early November, many would have started making fruit cakes, which seemingly require a few weeks in the making.  Ladies of an older generation will be seen with shopping trollies full of flour, sugar, and dried fruit.  The traditional recipe requires that the cook “feeds” the cake mix with whiskey every few days.  Between a regular feeding and marzipan icing, it sounds a little too complicated for me.  I generally bake up some cookies and drink the whiskey myself!

Over here, Christmas does not end with Christmas day. St Stephen's day is the day after and is another holiday. It is a day when most people to do their visiting.  Some go shooting, and the horse people join a hunt with hounds and all. (I’d like to make clear that no fox is harmed. It’s a ride around the countryside that ends at the pub.)  For me,  I love it as much as Christmas, because it is my day to relax, play games with the kids, and eat leftovers.  I enjoy watching the line up of Christmas movies and secretly hope no one turns up for a visit.  I think it should be a tradition everywhere, because it gives a person an extra day to relax after all the hard work and festivities before returning to work.

And does it end there?  Not really.  Of course we have our New Year’s celebrations like everyone else, and then nearly a week later on the 6th of January is Epiphany. In rural Ireland we celebrate it as Little Christmas or Ladies’ Christmas. It is a normal working day for most, but in the evening groups of ladies’ get together and go out for a dinner.  It’s our way of treating ourselves for all the hard work we did during Christmas.

I may be a homesick Yankee expat, but there are some traditions here I would certainly miss if I were to move back Stateside. 

For now, I'll wish you all... 

Nollaig Shona

Merry Christmas

Catherine Hughes Teahan


Monday, 20 October 2014

One Lovely Blog Award

This morning I was looking for motivation and inspiration...

and it came to me in the form of a nomination for a Lovely Blog Award from Martine Brennan, of My Small Granny and Other Stories.

Now, as a nominee, here are 7 things about myself which you may, or may not already know...

I'm a proud Oregonian
I'm a morning person 
I drink way too much coffee
                                               I'm easily distracted (probably too much coffee)
                                               My family means everything to me
                                               I'm creative
                                               I see art and beauty in just about everything

I'm new to the world of blogging, but do have a few that I follow.

From my cousin, Debbie Brown, comes All Things Chewa  Debbie is located in Zambia at the moment, and is blogging about the beautiful Chewa culture.

Izz & Zee is for anyone who likes to knit and do crafty things, Isobel Barrett has a clever way of "spinning" a tale around crafty projects and all things woolly. 

Dead Darlings is for everything novel.  It is a collection of posts from different writers, and a source of inspiration and help to those taking on the task of writing a novel.

Catherine Hughes Teahan


Sunday, 8 December 2013

The ground looked solid, or so I thought, until I took two steps past the fence line...

"Never wrestle with pigs, you both get dirty and the pig likes it."
-George Bernard Shaw

I love telling this story to my then unborn son, who  is now nearly 14, and my sleeping angel in the car seat, who is now 17.

How could I resist?  Two members of the Equine species beckoned to me from across a field.  The day was cold, and dampness hung in the air.  The last days of November were upon us, but I was warm.  Being pregnant in the winter certainly had it’s advantages, and as I never got used to the damp, Irish, cold, the warmer body temperature that came with pregnancy made up for the heaviness of being 7 months along. 

I stepped back towards the car, and checked my son, who was fast asleep in his car seat, then waved to my husband, who was looking to buy hay for our own horses from the farmer with whom we were visiting.  I shouted down to them that I was going to walk over to see the horses which were standing at the fence line and nodding their heads. 

“Grand!” Joe Morrisey shouted up to me, as he waved his hand in a salute.

I asked Joe if the electric fence was on, and he assured me that it wasn't.  The electric tape was low enough to the ground, which allowed me in my pregnant state, to balance myself against a fence post with one hand, and swing my legs over the tape as I pushed it down with my other hand. The horses were several yards away, behind a sheep wire fence, and at this time of the year, the grass was scarce in their field.  Their pacing and head nodding told me they were probably expecting me to bring them something.  It was late afternoon, and almost dusk.  Defiantly feeding time.  I was glad I was wearing my Wellingtons, because being the horse lover I am, I just had to get a closer look at these heavy Cobs even if it meant taking a walk through the mud.   I turned and took another look at my young son in the car before I trekked out.  He drew in a deep breath and sighed in his sleep.  Chances were he wouldn't wake until we got back home.  I looked back towards the two Cobs, who resembled hairy, muddy, Teddy bears.  The ground looked solid, or so I thought, until I took two steps past the fence line.  To my shock and horror that second step sucked me into the ground like quicksand. Within seconds, I was chest deep in loose, warm, mud.  I had never seen anything like it before.  My whole body seemed paralyzed, apart from my arms, which were thankfully free for waving like a lunatic while shouting down to Patrick and Joe Morrissey

“She’s after going into the slurry!”  I heard Mrs. Morrissey exclaim.

Patrick came running up the road with Mrs. Morrissey, a stout woman in her 60’s, trotting behind him in a panic, while Mr. Morrissey ran into the shed to retrieve a large piece of lumber.  When they arrived, they found me laughing, half out of panic, and half from thinking what this scene must look like.  A 7 month pregnant woman, chest deep in ancient slurry, all because her obsession with horses led her there.

The plank of timber landed next to me in a heavy splat, and as Mr. Morrissey stood on the one end, Patrick crawled halfway out and stretched out his hand for me to take.  I couldn't help but think of an old jungle film where the heroine finds herself in quicksand, and the likes of Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart throws in a vine to save her.  The difference was, the heroines of these types of films were so glamorous compared to me in my pregnant state.  I felt like an elephant in this scenario.

With a few tugs,  I was pulled out of the slurry into a heap on top of the timber.  Graceful it was not.  I managed to get onto my hands and knees and crawl back to solid ground, while one of my Wellington boots remained behind.  Mrs. Morrissey grabbed my arms and helped me to stand, while my husband fished for my other boot with a stick.  

“I told ya ta put a feckin' warnin' sign up der ages ago!”  Scolded Mrs. Morrissey, red faced and wagging her finger at her husband.

As I stood there dripping in muddy gunk, I began to feel the cold, and I knew I could not possibly sit into the car in such a state.  The embarrassed woman told me to come into the house with her, and she would find me something to wear home.  Minutes later, I was dressed in an old housecoat and Mrs. Morrissey’s Wellies.  I still, to this day, shudder at the image.  Walking to the car, I spied the two horses still standing at the fence with their ears perked.  They’d probably have never been so entertained in their whole lives.  I climbed into the warmth of the car, and I couldn’t wait to get home and shower.  Behind me, my little son stretched and yawned, completely unaware of the drama that unfolded just outside the car.

Catherine Hughes Teahan

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Peggy's Rock

"Even when they have nothing, the Irish emit a kind of happiness, a joy."
  -Fiona Shaw

Peggy Foley only left her Parrish a few times in her life.  There was an occasional trip into Kenmare for fair day, and once, when she was much older, she attended the wedding of a niece in Cork City.  This was the most momentous outing for Peggy, especially since she had the opportunity to travel by train.  The only means of transport available Peggy was a horse and trap, but the condition of the roads would often interfere with the wheels of the trap which were on the verge of breaking down from the constant rolling through the deep pot holes that littered the dirt and gravel lanes. The weight of the trap was also a hindrance, as it carried a family of 12 who relied on an old, skewbald, cob to pull them weekly to Mass through all kinds of road conditions.  Muddy roads would cause the old mare to lurch forward, and the older boys would be expected to dismount the trap and push.  By the time they reached Mass, their Sunday clothes would be splatted with mud, but no one took any notice, as most families made the same journey.  The year was 1955.

Peggy, who had never married, lived with her sister Hannah, Hannah's husband Ger, and their 9 children in a small farm house which during the winter months seemed out of reach.  Heavy rains would cause the river to swell, and one would not dare to attempt to cross the raging water over the stepping stones.  The lane would be impassable for the trap, and the Cob had the winter off.  Peggy spent her time looking after her sister’s children, and as the winter months continued on, she would devise games for the them to play to relieve their boredom. 

Although she was 30, Peggy was sometimes like a child herself and her sister worried that Peggy’s naivety may lead her to trouble.  It was well recognized in the family that Peggy was a little slow to understand things, but it was never discussed among the family members. It was an unspoken rule that every member of the family should mind her to keep her out of trouble and harm.  Peggy had little experience of the world, and Hannah feared that her younger sister was a little too trusting of people. She felt it was her duty to protect Peggy from the local bachelor farmers who may take advantage of her innocence.

Peggy's world only extended to the boarders of her Parrish, and during the balmy days of summer, she would often walk the stony, fields, making observations of the various kinds of birds, animals, and foliage in her surroundings.  If anyone was looking for her, they knew they would most likely find her perched on a rock in the high field, the rock the family had named, "Peggy's Rock".  She was happy in herself and her world.

While Peggy seemed to have no worries, Hannah did worry about what would become of Peggy's future.  There were many years in age difference between the two sisters, and it wouldn't be long before the children will have married or emigrated. How would Hannah care for Peggy in her old age?

Brendan Hallissey was a recent widower who lived alone at his small farm in the valley. He and his late wife Mary, never had children, and Hannah knew Brendan needed help in maintaining the household. Brendan was a quiet, older gentleman who tended to his own business, and did not have an unkind word for anyone. Hannah saw this as a great attribute as she would not wish for Peggy to spend her life with anyone who may be unkind to her.  She would have the security of her own cottage, someone to look after her, and she would also be closer to the village.  Hannah made a firm decision about this situation and discussed it with Ger, who agreed.  That evening, Ger found the half bottle of whisky which was at the very back of the cupboard and headed down the hill to visit Brendan.  Later on that night, as Peggy, who knew nothing of this plan slept, an agreement affecting her life as she knew it was made between Ger and Brendan.  Peggy and Brendan were married two weeks later.

The years rolled on.  Hannah and Ger had long since passed away, and the eldest son, Tadhg, inherited the farm. Two of the girls had emigrated to New York during the recession in the early 80's, and the rest were now married with their own families. Brendan had only passed away a couple of years before, and his nephew, who now ran the farm, was kind enough to allow Peggy to stay in the cottage. What was once only a lane fit for no more than a horse and trap, was now the main road to the village.  Peggy enjoyed watching the cars pass back and fourth, but sometimes life in the valley felt so far removed from her days on the mountain. The cottage had been modernized with plumbing and electricity in the late 70's, but Peggy did not have much faith in the electric cooker, which sat in the corner of the kitchen with a light dust from the turf fire covering it.  She thought the oven was the ideal place to keep bread, cakes and biscuits since she preferred to cook over the open fire.

I was first introduced to Peggy after I was assigned as her home help by Nurse Healy. It was a crisp, autumn day in October, and as Nurse Healy and I pushed open the front gate, I could smell a mix of smoke from the turf fire, and cooking chicken.  The front door of the cottage was wide open, and Peggy excitedly welcomed us in.  It was then, I stepped into another time.  The iron crane held the weight of a black pot over the fire, in which the chicken was stewing. Peggy immediately told us to sit at the table and offered us a cup of tea. I was amazed that although she looked quite elderly, she seemed to have a lot of energy. She chatted about the weather as she picked up an old kettle which sat inside the hearth of the fire. Peggy made certain there was always boiling water for pots of tea which she made only from loose tea. Peggy couldn't understand the fuss around tea bags. Nurse Healy observed that new linoleum had lain on the floor, which to me looked very unlevel and had the appearance of hills and valleys.  She told us that Brendan's nephew, Paudie, had put it there for her.  The lino, as it turned out, had been lain directly onto a dirt floor.

Although Peggy had little, she had enough and was very happy with her life. My assignment as her home help meant that I went to her three mornings a week to make sure she keeping well, having hot meals, and to help her with any household tasks she might not be able to do any more.  The truth was, she needed little help, but loved the company.  She told stories about her days on the mountain, and how she missed going to "Peggy's Rock".  Her legs would not allow her to make that climb anymore.  Her relations had long grown bored of her stories, but for me, each visit to her was like stepping into the past.  Those mornings were spent drinking tea while Peggy's dinner cooked over the fire suspended by an iron crane.

The year was 2005.