As I’ve now finished the third of my quartet of Novels set in Tudor Ireland and England and as the Pass of Plumes took place not far from Cashel I thought this might be a moment to put up something I wrote to please my mother Creena a few years back. It made her smile. She said it reminded her of the poetry she learned when she was at the convent.
The McDonnell of Boherclough were an old Cashel family and Creena was inordinately proud of her home-town. In her later years she went back and often performed in the town’s Christmas reviews and had her poetry read on the local radio. She grew up in that world where learning poetry and prose by rote was part and parcel of education. There were other things less edifying that were also part and parcel of education in those days. The nuns’ vocations didn’t make them strangers to the use of the ruler and the cane.That was in the 1920s and early 1930s
Things were still much the same in the early 1960s when I went to school…right down to the cane which I remember Mr Campbell called Fifi. Fifi’s appearances however were rare. I recall learning the Lady of Shallot by heart at my Junior School St Mary’s in Maidenhead when about nine or ten maybe. Later at Presentation College in first Form amongst others I learned off by heart Thomas Grey’s master-work Elegy Written in a country Churchyard. The churchyard in question is Stoke Poges not many miles from Wexham Park Hospital where mum was taken inumerable times before her incapacitating stroke. Should you visit you can still stand by the same yew tree looking over a scene that seems almost unchanged and where Grey sat as he wrote the poem – a work regarded as so important that a field or so from the churchyard the people of Philadelphia erected a momument to honour Thomas Grey.
In mum’s last years she still took huge pleasure in poetry and recalling bits she had learned which interestingly included the lovely piece of English prose by Irishman Edmund Burke that opens:
“It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendour and joy. 0h, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
But the age of chivalry is gone….”
After eighty-six years and four strokes; having lost so much of herself; she was yet word-perfect in reciting that passage. She spoke it quite beautifully. she was very moved by the words. Time had seasoned her understanding and they meant much more to her than when she first learned them.
I’m neither Grey nor Burke but nevertheless I know she liked the fact I wrote something about the place where she grew up and where indeed I was born.