The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

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Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Saturday, March 19, 2016

elegia pro nostra aetate

(celebrating 1916 with the Heelers Diaries)

The days of childhood.
A fourteen year old me and my little brother are receiving extra home schooling in Irish from a teacher called Gearoid O'Brolcain.
He is a youthful cultured Gaelic scholar, hugely influenced by 1960's hippy culture, with a great kindness for young people.
My parents are desperate that I should somehow learn Irish because in those days the language could open up career opportunities in Ireland.
Mr O'Brolcain is doing his best.
He proffers a text book.
I look at the name of the author.
Sean MacMathuna.
"I think it's disgraceful," sez I repeating a one liner I'd heard somewhere, "that we have to study books written by these ruddy IRA Republicans."
(Interestingly, in Ireland unlike in America, the word Republican tends to designate supporters of the IRA terrorist mafia.)
Mr O'Brolcain trembles.
Presently it becomes clear he's trembling a bit more than teachers normally tremble in my presence.
I've scored a direct hit for some reason.
"My father," he says after mastering himself with some effort, "was a ruddy Republican. My father died for Ireland."
It was a Kodak moment.
My little brother across the table watched wide eyed,
"I'm sorry," I said. "Obviously I didn't know your father. I didn't mean to disrespect him. I'm sorry."
And then because I could never quit while I was ahead, I had to ask.
"How did he die?"
A dreamy look came over Mr O'Brolcain's face.
"He was out on manoeuvres with the Volunteers," he murmured. "His health broke. And he died."
It's not what one expects
I'd briefly had pictures of a stark heroic figure throwing himself in front of a machine gun nest about to open fire on Padraic Pearse, with a cry of :"Hasta la vista, Brits."
Afterwards the little brother who would one day become Doctor Barn told me I'd been doing very well up to that moment.
I'd made my trademark blunder.
I'd somewhat endeavoured to undo the damage.
But the notion that catching the Flu could amount to dying for Ireland now proved a little too much for me.
With the best will in the world I could not control my facial features whose contortions and redness accompanied by barely suppressed splutters of guilty mirth (all the more irrepressible because I was so appalled by my own behaviour) quickly became near cosmically more disrespectful than my previous throwaway verbal disparagements.
Extra Irish tuition ceased for me not long after.
In our short time together Mr O'Brolcain did give me two things.
He gave me a lifelong ability and ease in the Irish language.
And he gave me one of those mortifying moments of childhood which have come to characterise the whole of my adult life.


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