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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Granny and Granda Sharkey

Granny Sharkey was one of the best people in the whole world, everybody loved her. She was always meeting some stranger, taking them home and making them one of the family. She had a guest book where people would sign their name and write some information about themselves and where they came from. There were names from Germany, America, Australia, France, Russia, England, from all over Ireland and tons of places I can’t even remember.

Granny wasn’t originally from Co. Donegal, but from Co. Cavan, one of the other southern counties in Ulster, where they have pigs. She met Granda in Drogheda, Co. Louth, where he was from, I don’t know if they have pigs there, they were married fairly young and when she passed away a few years ago from cancer, there was a very romantic story told about them and here’s my ragged recollection of the story.

They had been seeing each other, going to the pictures and things like that and Granny, Margaret, was hoping, Granda, Paddy was going to ask her to marry him. But her folks had a fella picked out back in Cavan for her and when it looked like Paddy was not going to make a move she made her way back home. When Paddy heard this he found his courage and got the bus to Ballyjamesduff and when he got to the town there was a fair and he had to search for her and when he finally found her he asked her then and there to marry him. The song “She Moves Through the Fair” was sung in their memory at her funeral. Jesus, that’s romantic, I hope I can tell my grandchildren a story half as fantastic as that.

Shad the best looking garden, front and back, in Conlin road and won loads of prizes for it. There was a pear tree out the back and a huge sycamore, gooseberry bushes, copper beaches and a green house too. We use to climb the big trees when we were kids and ate the pears long before they were ripe. Stomachaches and the shits were a great part of my childhood.

She was a great woman for bingo. Every Friday night she would get on the bingo bus outside their house, 64 Conlin Road, and from what I hear she was a great character. She would shed all her womanly-housewife tendencies and become her own person full of obscene jokes and gossip. She won the odd time at bingo, but she didn’t care about the winning, it was all about the society. I went once or twice with her, but didn’t like it too much, Derek on the other hand loved it and won the Snowball once and got ₤400. He used the money to buy himself and me racer bikes and never let me forget it! Anytime we had a fight he’d cut in “but I bought you a bike” and that would end the argument. What could I say to that?

She was the family conscience and every Sunday morning at the eleven-thirty mass you’d find her in the second row from the front, on the left-hand side. We use to go with her when we lived in town and she was so proud when I became an alter boy. That was when I was going through the phase when I thought I wanted to be a priest and never get married. However, I had an ulterior motive for becoming an alter boy and that was to get out of class for an hour with Declan and the boys, but in her eyes I was a great wee fella. I remember thinking it would be great to be a priest: free house, free car, clothes and all that. But when I found out the rest of the job: visiting the sick, going to funerals, no kissing girls, I gave up the idea. After we started living out the Five Points we didn’t go to Mass with her anymore and the other relations sat a little further back in the rows. Until eventually she was the only one in the row and I think that must have hurt her feelings.

My best memory is of her standing in front of the fireplace at her house, fag in mouth, brushing her long dark hair, talking to Derek and myself, telling us some tall tale about when she was a young girl back in Cavan. A portrait of Granda hung behind her, ashes spilled from the fire and onto the teapot that was always stewing there. Everyone said she didn’t get a gray hair till she was at lest sixty-five and she’d been one of the most beautiful women around when she was younger.

When Derek and I started going to the Tech in Killybegs, she made us lunch everyday. Her cheese toasties were great but her stew, Sharkey Special as she called it, was the best. I got the recipe for it once, but I couldn’t get it to taste as good as hers. And it was best of all when she mashed all the potatoes up in a bowl and then mashed the stew into it, oh I can nearly taste it now.

Derek was always her favorite, I didn’t mind ‘cause it was him that spent the most time with her, although she liked me more as a teenager than Derek as he was starting to get into a lot of trouble at school.. However, it is the foundational years that count when talking about the share of one’s love. Granny was mad about antiques and old artifacts and she and Derek were always watching the Antiques Road Show on the BBC together. One year Granny was given a metal-detector for Christmas and after that she and Derek were always out in the fields at the back of the football field or at Fintra beach looking for lost Celtic treasure. Although, all they ever found was some lost change and buried tin cans, but one time a lady lost her diamond ring at the beach and it was Granny and Derek to the rescue and after two days of endless searching they came up with it!

Granny was full of stories about ghosts and UFO’s, she would have made a great writer for the National Inquirer: Headless Ghost Gives Birth to Alien Baby! However, it was Granda who was the real man for stories; he could tell you something that would stay with you forever. He was the Donegal Poet of the year and won an Allingham Poetry award: when he spoke, people listened.

When he wasn’t in his armchair with a cup of tea or eating his dinner, Granda was in his work shop every waking-minute of his life. Though he had the heart of a poet and philosopher, he had the hands of an engineer. He was an innovator in the marine electronics field and it most likely it was his creative edge, rather than his knowledge of mathematical formulas and electronic circuitry, that lead him to his greatest inventions. He served in the RAF during WWII and he put to good use the expertise he learned from working on radar. He often mentioned that he never flew bombing missions, just reconnaissance and the technical side.

The Electric Fisher was his greatest invention that I can remember. It was a tool used to capture fish alive for research without harming them. It worked on a fairly simple process. You put a metal plate in a river pool, the plate was connected to a net you held in your hands, then standing down stream you zapped the fish with small electric currents and they floated down stream to you and hey-presto you had a fish in the net! Universities around the country and the world took an interest in his inventions, but he didn’t patent them and didn’t make much money from his hard labor. He could have been a millionaire ten times over, but he didn’t care about money, he was happier to have the work done and then relax with a pint and a short of whiskey in a pub someplace, telling a story about Sheamy the Leprechaun. A lot of people saw this as a failing in him, but to me it shows greatness of character; man might make the money, but money never makes the man.

People have told me over the years that he was the smartest person they ever met. My respect for him is immeasurable. He was a Renaissance man if ever there was.

Granda was a dog lover and when Granny was out with her metal detector at the beach he was out there with the dogs, throwing a stick into the water for Bruce, Sam, Wilma, Gemma or Marla, to help them get rid of the ticks and fleas as he said. He loved to wear his green body warmer and always looked like he was either going to or coming from a hunt.

Christ, they were both missed when they died. 64 Conlin Road was more than a house it was the entire center of our family’s universe. One day a year, on Christmas Eve, we all gathered to open presents with them and drink tea and eat toast and pate. Apart from a funeral or a wedding, it was the only time when the whole family actually got together. We made a small army with all the aunts and uncles and twenty-six grandchildren. No wonder there was so much for people to talk about. Those were magic days I’ll never forget.

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