This was a twitter thread that Fiona@GenXBanshee graciously allowed me to repost.
Growing up, my father always insisted that we stop by this pub when back in Ireland. It was non-negotiable— even when keeping our heads ducked low for a covert visit to avoid 1,000 cups of tea with a hundred relatives, we had to stop here. He told me each time why but I, being young and foolish, paid little attention.
There was always going to be “next time” or “later” to listen better. Until suddenly, there wasn’t. He was gone. The next time I drove by, I wondered, “What did this place mean to him?” Then, I emotionally self-flagellated for not remembering. On the last trip back, I finally went inside in hopes that an answer was waiting— but the young lad behind the bar unsurprisingly had no clues to give me.
So I walked across the street to another pub— Campbell’s— and mentioned my quest. The proprietor said, “They might have known each other from a building site in England…” and my tears stopped him. That was all it took for the door holding back the memories to get kicked open. My father had to leave his hometown in Mayo at age 14 to take work digging ditches in London. But he was so sickly— recently recovered from polio— and could barely stand for much time. He arrived in England desperate for money to help his mother back home but coughing up blood and near collapse. The man who owned this pub in Swinford— P Moore— was in charge of him at the site. He used to hide my father and make excuses— “I sent John on an errand for me”— whenever the higher ups were around. The owner of this pub quite likely saved my father’s life… saved that child from working himself into a grave to take care of his mother. This, my friends, is but one of the incalculable values that small towns offer us in 2022— they hold our past for us until we are ready to carry it forward ourselves. One thing I always knew— one thing that he never let me forget— was how much that time in UK reinforced his love of & appreciation for Mayo.
He used to envision home on his sickest, coldest days when he was over in London, used those images to pull him through. Years later, when he was writing his play up in Belfast, that memory made it into the pages. One of the characters, having emigrated to NYC, speaks the words my father used to say himself— “The sun shining on the face of Nephin… How many times have I closed my eyes and seen that in the past years?” He also used to say that it was his first sight of Nephin from the train that made him finally feel safe again, that he was home. When he was dying in 1998, he asked to be brought back to Ireland and buried there.
To be brought home. I was a young, new mother of a month-old baby & Google was still months away from being “born,” itself. Wasn’t like it is now, with everything around the globe at your fingertips. So on my long list of towns, I’m indebted to, I must add Lahardane. I made a phone call from Chicago to a village across the sea where I knew no one, and when we arrived with my father’s urn, they had created an experience to honour him so powerful & poignant it brings me to my knees with gratitude 23 years later. The pub was laid out with a feast, a family had given us right of passage on their land and chosen a spot along their flowing river for his memorial marker and a fairy tree with a view, it felt like, of all of Mayo underneath which to lay the urn— and an uilleann piper was ready to lead us up the misty mountain to “Amazing Grace” and play my father’s favourite song, Carrickfergus,” as we laid him to rest. I could not have done any of it alone. The people of Lahardane didn’t know me but yet they carried me through the hardest time of my life. To this day, I tell people here, “Ireland is the home you don’t realize you’ve always had.” Fiona
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