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Bloodline Or Accent!

Bloodline or Accent?

When I was asked to write something about “my country,” the invitation gave me cause to pause. I have lived in many countries, Canada, USA, Africa, working in overseas Aid and Development, Scotland, England and Ireland. Currently, I live in the UK, but have a house in Ireland. So which of these constitutes my country?

I was born in Ireland. Not one drop of ancestral blood is anything other than Irish. Give or take Spanish or Viking invasions and various incursions between the ancient Celts, I can honestly say, I am a thoroughbred. Yet, what does that mean?

I decided to explore whether nature or culture defines our nationalism. Does my bloodline define me or does my accent?

The reason I am asking is because I grew up in England. I went to school here. This culture inspired me, helped shape my taste in Music, Literature, Architecture, Art and Dance. My close friends are English, my mannerisms are too, as is my accent – posh some would say.

Yet being an immigrant in 1954 post-war London defined my childhood and shaped my psyche. At that time, to be Irish in England meant being unpopular. Like many others, we crossed the Irish Sea, disembarked at Liverpool, traveled to Birmingham and ended up in London. We were economic migrants fleeing the inherent poverty of a beloved country in search of the farther, gold-edged shores of America or England. When we arrived, No Irish Need Apply signs greeted us and graced the windows of the Labour Exchange.no-irish-need-apply-sign

My parents were a strange mixture. My mother was from Co. Clare, which boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. She was educated, her mother holding the then lofty title of school  head mistress. My mother was fluent in her native tongue, a champion Irish dancer and a woman ahead of her time. She ought not to have fallen in love with my father – a musician from Donegal and as wild as the black hills that bred him.

sir george Roby

Obviously now closed and undergoing renovation, this is the Sir George Robey Public House where I spent afew years of my childhood. In those days it was called The Clarence and was opposite The Rainbow Rooms, a great music venue, where The Beatles and The Rolling Stones performed and used to drink in our parlour!

Without going into details, theirs was a violent, dysfunctional relationship to say the least. My childhood was difficult in the extreme. I grew up in London-Irish Public Houses amongst the navvies and builders of the Victoria Tube tunnels, juxtaposed with the singers, musicians, painters and ex-pat poets looking for a home-from-home. They found it in the sparkle of my mother’s blue eyes. She had oodles of charm and was the classic Irish pub landlady: glamorous, flirtatious, witty and kind.

Apart from the violence, the rows and the drinking binges, some aspects of growing up in an Irish pub were good. For example, The Dubliners stayed with us and performed in the bar in exchange for accommodation, food, and booze. It would have been cheaper if my mother had charged them rent. In those days, the Irish were renowned for, and excelled in, their capacity to drink.

The_Dubliners_with_Luke_Kelly

The Dubliners, as they were then, stayed with us in our pub and played in the public bar.

As a race, the Irish are not known for openly having many enforced acts of etiquette. But, one extremely important, almost sacred courtesy was the nod and the wink to the bartender to line up a fresh round of the ‘Black Stuff.’ Pints stood in rows of creamy black and white atop the bar. They would not be touched until the last bit of froth had settled. Only then did the bartender move the glass to the table for the dark, heavy liquid to be consumed. Pints were nodded into existence long before they were needed, long before the existing pint was empty. ‘Keep ‘em coming, Michael,’ meant perhaps that twenty rounds would be lined up in a night. Sometimes, whiskey chasers followed. Obviously, as the whiskey chased the barley, the tone of the evening degenerated, as rivers of alcohol coursed through Irish veins and inspired everything from poetry recitation about the ‘auld sod’, to songs about Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore, speech-making and politicising, which often resulted in punch-ups. The pub was a political breeding ground for dissolute and disenfranchised young men forced to live off the English pound far from Irish shores. History was never far from Irish lips, hearts, or memories.

Apart from the seedy side of pub life, I met some wonderful musicians and poets. Whistle players, pipers, fiddlers, singers, and dancers made many an evening transport me back to the peat fires and the wild, empty shores of my birth. To this day, I prefer a soft rain to blistering sun and the soft, muted autumnal colours of heather on mountains to those bright and coquettish colours of summer. When light shift-shapes on mountain valley and casts all manner of differently coloured shadow, I am put in mind of the painter’s palette and how those colours might speak through a delicate brush. Subtle mixtures of greys, purples and greens morph into deep blue. A shock of yellow when sun flickers though racing clouds seems almost incongruent with a black mountain. Just as suddenly, deep reds morph back to purple.

seamus heaney

Seamus Heaney, the poet laureate was a family friend.

It is no wonder there has been a great revival in successful Irish Art. There is nothing static about an Irish landscape as rain clouds build, release, scurry away and relieve the tension for a quiet, still, gentle moment. And it is no wonder that most of the Anglo-Irish writers were inspired by local nature poets.

I have always carried the culture of the Anglo-Irish poets and writers in my heart as well as the music and love of dramatic scenery. These elements of my Irish soul live in me and influence all I write. But in truth, my mind is English. I prefer rationality to unbridled expression of passion. Discipline and minimalism are the structures on which I build my art. I guess that is why I love English architecture – the embodiment of an interaction of humans with landscapes – less wild, less lonely, shaped and tended.

Politically, I am liberal rather than conservative, cosmopolitan rather than nationalistic. I love differences in nationality, colour and creed. I think it makes for a more healthy balance of views. England is such a swirling mix of colours from skin tones, clothing, foods, tastes and accents. I am able to hide in England, maintain privacy, be anonymous among millions of nameless, faceless people. History does not dictate my being, role or identity. Rather, I move among it, always connected to great men and women of vision through England’s ancient buildings and visible structures.

Maybe I am a mixture of Anglo-Irish. Maybe that is a particular breed. I do not have to choose one or the other but am made whole by both. Maybe nationalism is unimportant. We carry the blood of ancestors in our veins, in our collective memories, in our hearts and souls. The past is always present, morphing, becoming tempered, informing the development of spirit and shaping a brand new future.

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About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamh.co.uk

17 comments on “Bloodline Or Accent!

  1. Ampat Koshy
    February 17, 2013

    just beautiful 🙂 niamh and astoundingly detailed – you write so well 🙂

    Like

  2. Jonty JB Johnston
    February 17, 2013

    Fab post and so interesting. x

    Like

  3. the secret keeper
    February 17, 2013

    WoW, what a wonderful piece of history and insight. Not a nationalist myself either but love the idea of having Irish in my bloodline and British also. What a marvelous life outside your family that you were exposed to. That part must have been fun. You wrote a compelling story of truth. Inner connections but an outer world separate from your bloodline. It is fuller to be a citizen of the world and to leave behind the separation. You lived that from being a citizen of the world with all the places you lived and learned about in your work and travels. I was delighted by your prose and discovering some of the many mysteries about your life and what an exciting life your past held for you. To step back and see your parents from a broader perspective, that takes a strength that you are made of. To be liberal, is a good thing, also. I like that being a progressive liberal myself.

    As you said, it is in the bloodline. But does the bloodline have to rule who you are or just tell you what your influences derive from? Great post. You do have the Irish influence in your telling of a tale whether from true life or fantasy. Thoroughly enjoyed and loved reading this.

    Did you ever happen to come upon a certain Beatle that we both adore? That would be John Lennon. You did say they dropped in. I must say the flavour of the pub when the poetry and song started and the drunkenness hadn’t totally taken effect, that time must have been sweet.

    This post, I will have to read many time. That is how much I was enthralled by it. There is so much more to say, but I will stop here. Brava Niamh, I do love your writing. Jennifer ♥ ♫ ♣ ♥ ♫ ♣ ♥ ♫ ♣

    Like

  4. Uncle Tree
    February 18, 2013

    Your history is sound, as is your mind, Niamh.
    An excellent little bio you have here. Good show! 🙂

    Now, about reddish hair, ruddy arms, and freckles…
    Does anyone know where they come from?

    I’m stumped. 😉 Peace and luvz, Keith

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      February 18, 2013

      Thank you, and I could say, celts!

      Like

    • ontheplumtree
      February 18, 2013

      Many thanks, Uncle Tree. I would say: Celt. But there are dark celts and red-headed ones depending on their origins. The celts were migratory and came from all over the place originally.

      Like

      • Uncle Tree
        February 18, 2013

        Well, thank you for replying, Niamh. I’m not sure
        it matters a whole lot anymore. We’re quite
        the mixed-up bunch, and we all have to learn
        to play with the cards we’re dealt in this lifetime.
        (Like big round noses and wide hobbit feet.) 🙂

        Like

      • ontheplumtree
        February 18, 2013

        No, it doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyhow.I have always thought red hair is gorgeous!

        Like

  5. Patricia Tilton
    February 18, 2013

    I loved hearing about your early childhood years, the influences on your life. I enjoyed learning more about you — and I understand why I connect with you. We share so many of the same beliefs. Love your comment about your heart is “Irish” and your “mind’ is “Anglo.” And Anglo friend of mine told me that she thought I was pronouncing your name incorrectly. She said that it was “celtic” and may be “NEE-av or NEEV.” Just curious. My great grandfather came from Ireland as a chid.

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      February 18, 2013

      My name is pronounced Neeve. There is no ‘V’ in the Irish alphabet, so an ‘MH’ or ‘BH’ makes a ‘V’ sound. In Galway, the local accent pronounces it nee-av as your friend says!

      Like

  6. thiskidreviewsbooks
    February 19, 2013

    WOW! I was pronouncing your name incorrectly too! Thanks for asking Ms. Tilton! 🙂

    Like

  7. Darlene
    February 26, 2013

    I love this post. It is interesting how all the parts of us make us whole. I am German Canadian. Our family lived in South Russia before immigrating to Canada 100 years ago. But we still eat German food, use German words and follow the values of our German forefathers. My Mom remembers growing up during WWII. She was spat on for being German, even though her uncles served in the Canadian Army. I too love the diversity of our world. We all have stories to tell and you tell yours so well. I believe I have been saying your name incorrectly too!

    Like

    • ontheplumtree
      February 26, 2013

      Everyone says my name incorrectly! <amy thanks for your visit.

      Like

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