By Maura Mulligan
As Mayo Day was celebrated around the globe on Bealtaine, May 1, I remembered the roses that grew against the whitewashed wall near the window of our family home. With a piece of twine, my mother would coax the stems to sway in the direction of the glass so that they peeped in and she could look at them while she counted eggs into the sally-rod basket on the kitchen table.
When the four walls were still standing, I’d visit the stones that bore my childhood memories. When the stones were removed and perhaps buried I asked myself why the new owner couldn’t have planted a garden within the remaining structure so that new life could blend with the memories of those who once lived there. Perhaps people who have never moved from the place where they were born, lack insight to the immigrant heart? John Locke’s poem, “Dawn On The Irish Coast,” also known as “The Immigrant’s Return,” is a reminder of this deep desire to stay connected to the place of one’s birth.
…” The alien home may have gems and gold,
Shadows may never have gloomed it;
But the heart will sigh for the absent land
Where the love-light first illumed it.”
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Whenever I looked out the window on a clear day, I could hear the call of the field in front of the house. Its slightly downward hill would seduce my feet to run as far as the main road to see who might be passing. It was usually neighbors driving cattle home for milking or cyclists with baskets hanging from the handlebars on their way to Coillte Mach for groceries. They’d stop to have a chat and ask how my dancing was coming along. When occasionally I’d hear the engine of a car in the distance, I’d shout to my sisters, Mag and Bridie: “a car is comin’.” Then we’d bolt with mad feet out the front door and down the field. Cars were scarce in rural Ireland back then so it was a thrill to see one passing the road at the end of the field.
The well field.
It seemed to me that the field was magical. It had the ability to change appearance for the sole purpose of entertaining us children. In early spring, after Brigid’s Day, it sprouted daisies that we picked and threaded to make necklaces. When the field was ploughed for planting spuds, we’d watch for the potato stalks to produce large white fragrant flowers. Later in the summer when the flowers turned yellow and had a more pungent perfume, it was time to dig up the new potatoes and enjoy a pot of cally. When seed was planted in the field, we’d help build the haycocks or tie sheaves of oats to form stooks and then play hide and seek between them.
I remember, and can still see in my mind the wild strawberries and blackberries that grew on the hedge of the field along the botherín (small road). As children, we’d watch and wait for the strawberries to turn from green to red. They were small and sweet and didn’t discolor our faces and hands like the juicy blackberries did. Yellow primroses grew along the inside of the hedge close enough to greet the wild fruit when it showed signs of life.
The yellow furze on the opposite side led to the Well Field. The water from the well was pure and cold to the taste. We carried it in tin cans through the gap and past the tall hawthorn trees that grew at the top of the field near the cottage. Here we’d play house using the iron fire screen that we dragged out to the field when my mother was feeding the hens or collecting the eggs from the henhouse. Lying on the cool summer grass we’d look at the sky through the bars of the screen and smell the white hawthorn blossoms as we followed the voices of lark, thrush, sparrow, robin and blackbird. In early May the cuckoo would arrive to choose someone else’s nest to lay her egg and then add voice to the ongoing birdsong.
Whenever I spend time in Mayo, I always visit “my field.” I am grateful for it and thankful to it for the many wonderful memories it has given me. A recent photo from a good friend and neighbor shows a few wooly-coated residents enjoying the grass. I keep that photo as a screen saver on my phone so I can visit my field whenever I want.
Maura Mulligan is author of the memoir “Call of the Lark.”