Merlin Park reminiscences

WE ARE Family, this year’s edition of The Cat’s Cradle, published by Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust and launched at Cúirt later this month, borrows its title from an unlikely source.

A song of the same name was a major disco hit for the American group, Sister Sledge, back in 1979, in an age when people wore white platform shoes and flared trousers without any irony at all.

There has been a great deal written and talked in the past few years about the darker side of Irish family life, but as Writer-in-Residence working with patients at Units 5 and 6 of Merlin Park Hospital on this year’s theme of ‘families’, I wanted this new year’s Cat’s Cradle to be more than another chapter in the story of the miserable, Irish childhood.

Yes, there was always more to Irish family life than the happy story of ‘sturdy youth and comely maidens dancing at the crossroads’, which Eamonn deValera tried to sell his listeners in his St Patrick’s Day broadcast of 1943.

Even then, people didn’t entirely buy it, but neither was the darkness and rain ever quite as all encompassing as it is in the film version of Angela’s Ashes. One of my favourite such moments was when Mary Hynes told me how, as a teenager, she used to escape out the bedroom window to go to dances her parents had refused her permission to attend.

Martin Fallon talks about the summer night he met his wife at a dance in Seapoint and then walked her all the way home to Prospect Hill. Madeleine Moloney explains in some detail what would make a prospective husband a ‘good catch’ for a woman.

Tom Monaghan talks about how he briefly found romance at a Fine Gael meeting and Peter and Marika Perkins tell the wonderful story of how they met on the set of the film, A Lion In Winter, where Peter was working as a stuntman at the time.

Margaret Keane, Mary Hynes, and Kathleen Moloney have a hugely entertaining back-and-forth discussion about the complex financial arrangements which enabled them to buy confirmation suits and first Holy Communion dresses for their children.

Dr Oscar de Souza talks about what it was like to come all the way from Goa in India to be a medical student here in Galway 40 years ago, where he then met his wife. Louis Hanley waxes poetical about the wild, natural, beauty of the area immediately around his family home and what it was like to be the only one not to emigrate, while Fr Vincent Lenihan tells us of his many years working as a priest in California.

Political and social strife are never far away. Vincent tells us of his sadness at seeing boys from his parish go away to Vietnam and how he later had to do funeral Masses for a number of them on their return. His parish was his family and he never thought that war would work, Vincent says.

Volume 5 of Cat’s Cradle – We Are Family is launched at this year’s Cúirt International Festival of Literature on Friday April 23 at 11am at Galway University Hospital.

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