Family Fortunes: English comics were forbidden in our house on the grounds that they were entirely unsuitable for Fáinne-wearing children
The piano was kept in good working order and a tuning contract was entered into with Pigott and Co Ltd
In 1959, when my sister and I came home from our school year at Coláiste na Rinne, in Co Waterford, we had acquired a new status. We were fluent Irish speakers and to keep up the “blas” our parents imposed a regime of spoken Irish at home. My father lasted longer than my mother who broke into fluent English the minute we stepped out of line. In fairness, Dad only had to remember the Irish speaking rules when he came home from work. For Mammy, it was a one-week wonder and shortly thereafter we reverted to the vernacular as spoken by the “gná daoine”.
For our secondary school education, they sent us to Scoil Chaitríona, the Irish-speaking Dominican Convent on Eccles Street, Dublin, across the road from Leopold Bloom’s imaginary home as described on the pages of Ulysses. Not that this ever entered our consciousness except to say that Dad had gone to some trouble to get copies of Finnegans Wake and Ulysses delivered by post to his home address. At the time, Finnegan was banned by the Irish Censorship Board on the grounds of indecency, and Ulysses, while never officially banned, was simply kept off the shelves. Naturally us younger members of the household were intrigued enough to try to read these works but never got past the first page.
It was also around this time that the piano arrived in our front sitting room. Mammy believed that if we practised hard and played well we’d always be welcome at parties. The practice bit was the rock on which we perished and our fractured version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik would have made Mozart despair. At her most fraught she would compare us to our country cousins whom she declared played the piano with hurley sticks. Nevertheless it was kept in good working order and a tuning contract was entered into with Pigott and Co Ltd, Pianoforte and Music Warerooms, 112 Grafton Street and 11 Suffolk Street, Dublin.
Meanwhile, in a quieter corner of the house, Dad read the works of Joyce, while his children were frantically engaged in procuring other banned publications, namely, the Bunty and the Beano which were forbidden in our house on the grounds that they were English rubbish and entirely unsuitable for Irish-speaking children who could now claim rightful entitlement to be the wearers of the Fáinne Nua on their school jumpers.
Happily, both the piano, Joyce and the Irish language have found new admirers in the next generation of our family.