When I close me eyes, open my mind and think of my first memory, it is always the same. I am standing by the front window in our house on St. Cummin’s Hill. Looking out the window I can see my brother Derek getting into
Our house on the Hill is number 14; Mam’s sister lives in number 13, unlucky for some and proved very unlucky for them. They are the Murphy’s and their Dad, Sean, always looked very angry. Derek, my cousin Paddy, who's the same age as me, and I were terrified of him as children, but my Dad wasn’t and one night when he wouldn’t let Dad use their phone, Dad punched him in the nose and split his face, then turned around and told him to “Fuck off.” Sean Murphy was always shouting at our cousins, I would have hated to have him as a father. He liked to kill animals, especially gray crows that ate the eyes out of baby lambs, he was in the gun club and had a sitting room full of trophies he’d won for marksmanship. Their sitting room was always dark and we learned never to go in there when he was there; “I can’t see the fucking TV,” is what he would say if you opened the door even a crack. Other people hated him because he was the social welfare officer and he pissed a lot of people off with his superior attitude. As kids we feared the name Sean Murphy, as some kids feared the bogeyman.
In all there were 18 houses in a line on St. Cummin’s Hill, with McGuire’s in pole position at the top and the Friels living at the bottom. The Friels were a family of settled tinkers, gypsies, itinerants, knackers, I’m not sure which one is the current acceptable term, but they provided a lot of drama and gossip for the town of Killybegs, almost as much as the Sharkeys. They always had a few greyhounds out the front of the house and a donkey or two tied to an ESB pole. In accordance with the heritage they stemmed from they collected car tires and batteries, pieces of old copper and bicycles out the front of their house. These objects would be rendered into money by some stretch of the imagination, recycling years before it became a cool-yuppie-middle class-save the whales motif. My most noted memory of the Friels is of them collecting periwinkles along the coast around Killybegs. In the summer months they could always be seen with a big sack of ‘winkles over the bar of their bike. A periwinkle looks like a snail, and like escargot is a delicacy in the right market, but around Killybegs people just think of it as a dirty snail from the sea.
Our house had a green door and the paint was flaking, but all the years we lived there were happy years. We were poor, not Frank McCourt poor, but poor enough to be on welfare and having to live half the time at Granny’s house. Dad was fishing and had a hard time controlling the drink. I don’t remember much about his drinking, only that Derek and I use to hang out in Roger’s Hotel and play video games and pool when weren’t even tall enough to see over the top of the table.
He came back from the pub once and he and Mam had an argument and he shouted and she shouted and he got his brown leather suit case out of the hot press and threw clothes into it and threw some of my things in it too. I don’t know where Derek and Jenny were, but only my stuff went in the suitcase. Mum went off to Granny’s house and Dad said we were going to
Memories of him on land are what I really remember. In 1984 he bought himself a box of fish and a rusty old Fiat, with holes in the floor and he went In-Through to begin his Fish-Run. In-Through is an area west of Killybegs and there are loads of arguments about where it begins and where it ends. Depending on who you ask they’ll tell you it starts after the next river or road after their house, nobody ever wants to actually own up to living there.
Well, Dad began to sell his fish door to door, getting up early every morning and not getting home till very late in the evening and had to leave again to go to the auctions down the pier. He was always gutting fish at the kitchen sink and soon we had a phone with the number 31497 and Dad had a business called C-Fish. Granda Sharkey helped him convert one of his sheds into his first miniature fish factory and he employed three men from the Hill: Cyril McBrearty from No. 10 and Nigel and John Joe Dowds who lived next door in No. 15.
The Dowds’ were the best people in the world and always helped us out, especially Mrs. Dowds who felt sorry for Mam, being so young and having so many children and not a clue in the world. She made us buns and cups of tea all the time and when Jenny and I painted our hair with black paint, she put us in the bath and showed Mam how to get it out using margarine. The Dowds’ were from the North and Mrs. Dowds and John Joe spoke with a voice that was different from the people of Killybegs. Her’s was a little musical, a soothing voice you’d want to hear when you were up set. John Joe spoke less than Mrs. Dowds, but when he laughed his whole bald head went red. I’m very thankful for having known their whole family: Carol, Emmet and Nigel were like big brothers and sister to us.
Dad bought a cream colored Toyota Lite-Ace van and his fish-run In-Through was official. I went with him a few times and some of the old ladies gave me a pound or two for myself. Derek went more than I did because he was older and made more money too. Dad collected his earnings in a biscuit tin for coins and a S.M.A. baby formula can for cash. I often wonder if he misses that simple system?
The first nine years of my life are a blurred plethora of images: my first day at school, my first holy communion, first family holiday to