by Oonah V. Joslin
part 1 of 2
Jack took his duties as secretary seriously. The minutes were meticulously typed from the copious notes he made at every meeting.
“Is everybody content that these are a true account of the last meeting? A show of hands please.”
Everybody present signaled assent.
“Do we have to be that formal?” Eithne ventured. “Sure we’re all friends.”
Jack looked up from putting his signature to the document and passed it to the chairperson. He wondered was she taking the mick? Estranged family is a tad more than friends and a good deal less at the same time. Eithne’s face yielded nothing to scrutiny. “Friends, aye, but we’re supposed to represent the whole community an’ if somebody out there took it into their head they didn’t like what we were up to, it would be as well t’ have a record of who voted for what, now. Don’t you think?” He glared at her.
“Like what I think matters a damn?” said Eithne.
The others perked up, ready for a slanging match.
“Okay,” interrupted Nuala Henderson, “We’ll have no family smalls laundered here, you two. Jack’s right, so he is.” She counter signed the minutes. “We have to be accountable.”
“Oh, I suppose so,” conceded Eithne.
Jack was a contentious auld so and so: the minutes of every meeting seemed more like hours. You could’ve had the meeting, been away home, made the supper and put the wee’uns to bed by the time you got to the business.
Nuala called the meeting to order. “I’m pleased to say we have no apologies tonight,” she began, “for, as we decided last time, tonight’s session will be devoted to discussing the Saint Patrick’s Day Ceilidh here at the Community Centre.”
It was a brand new building, partly funded by Lottery money and partly by the Borough Council. The idea was to bring the community together, ‘whether they liked it or not,’ Father Feeny had said in part joke, whole earnest. The Community Centre Committee or ‘Clueless Clucking Clan’, as some locals joked, had been selected by as many of the residents of Glenslade as could be persuaded to vote. That was, everybody who attended any church, and that meant nearly everybody in the district. The message was promulgated from every pulpit that you had to vote if you wanted ‘a proper say,’ i.e. to dominate the committee. Fortunately it hadn’t worked out quite that way.
They’d voted Nuala as chair, because some of them thought The Troubles a male construct, but Nuala had weighed in on the side of the men. Hadn’t they all mothers, she’d argued. So, then the mothers must be part of the problem too since there’d been so little shift in attitudes over three decades. Nobody could argue with the logic.
Eithne was the youngest member. Hers was a so called mixed marriage. She had met Robert at the local comp, where Eithne taught Maths and he taught Biology, and now they had two children under school age, a mingling of disciplines, so they had a definite interest in bringing the community together.
Jack Spence, an irrepressible seventy-something, owned the hardware shop that had been in his family for generations and was a staunch Orange man and a beacon of Presbyterianism. He was also Robert’s grandfather, but he wouldn’t own the children because they had been christened Catholic; Eithne’s final genuflection towards her own faith.
Jack was a traditionalist. It was said that some of the original stock was still available in his shop. If anybody wanted lamp oil or a wick or black leading for the range, Jack was your man. He’d dust off a cardboard box with 6d. written on the side and then make the prices up as he went along. His accounting system was pencil scribblings on pieces of card. And sure what if he got the change wrong once in a while? “The man that never made a mistake never made anything.”
There were twelve on the committee and they were an unlikely bunch of apostles.
“Okay, so,” Nuala began hopefully. “Any ideas for this ceilidh?”
Silence. Nobody wanted to be the first to say anything. At last a thin wee voice piped up.
“Could it not be called a ceilidh this year?”
There were a few shocked intakes of breath.
“Why’s that, Ella?” asked Nuala, in a tone calmer than she felt, given the potential for dissent.
Ella, having been brave enough to broach the matter found that she hadn’t sufficiently thought about a reason.
“Well, I think what Ella’s trying to say is that ceilidh is a very f.... Irish word,” said Jimmy Boyd, trying to be tactful whilst hiding his embarrassment at having entertained the politically unacceptable word he’d thought of first!
“Well now, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, is he not?” Big Sean McKillip leaned over the table towards Jimmy as he said this. Sean didn’t mean to look intimidating, he just did. The fact was that when the almighty had made Big Sean, he hadn’t taken ergonomics into account and so all chairs were too small for him. He had to shift about to ease his back but it made him look like he was always itching for a showdown. It was unnerving for the recipient of any remark to be leaned at by Big Sean.
“Oh aye,” Jimmy agreed palms up as if Sean was holding a gun on him. “It’s just that some folk in the community might prefer the word, ‘dance,’ or something less....”
He couldn’t say ‘Irish’ again and he couldn’t say ‘Catholic’, and he definitely couldn’t use that other word. The whole point was not to say anything like that! Jimmy’s brain contorted into unaccustomed Celtic knots.
Everybody else tried desperately to think of something to fill the historical chasm of prejudice left by the silence.
Caitlin’s mousy little voice nipped into the gap. “It’s not really a ceilidh anyway, is it? I mean we usually have competitions as well, and it’s not a barn dance either, and it’s never been all Irish music...”
Barry backed her up. “That’s right enough, what Caitlin’s saying. But you know maybe we should just do a questionnaire, you know. ‘Would you rather come to a ceilidh or a dance’?”
“Why don’t we call it Glenslade’s Celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day?” suggested Mike.
“It’s a bit o’ a mouthful, if you ask me.” Sean McKillip sounded scathing. “What’s wrong with ‘bash’?” Sean could be a bit obtuse like that.
“Glenslade’s St Patrick’s Dance, I move,” said Mike decisively.
“I second Mike,” said Jack.
“All in favour?” said Nuala.
“Well,” continued Nuala, “That’s the first hurdle!”
“Are you getting all this, Jack?” asked Eithne.
“Are you trying to be funny?” snapped Jack fiercely.
“No! No! Honest to God, Jack, swear to God!” Eithne crossed herself which annoyed him even more. “I wasn’t criticizing, Jack. I’m the one that’ll have to get the posters printed and I can’t remember what it was called already!”
“There y’are see. Maybe I’m not such a borin’ auld fart after all! Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for some other people to take some relevant notes too sometimes. Always assuming they could spell relevant!”
Various voices chipped in that she’d never said... he didn’t mean... nobody wud call you a fart to yer face, etcetera. Then Nuala called the meeting back to order.
“Any other ideas?” She was hoping for something less controversial this time but she had misgivings. “What about decorations for the hall, for instance?” she prompted.
The pitfalls were obvious the minute Mike opened his mouth. “What do you usually have?” he asked innocently enough, but the very word ‘you’ as a corollary to ‘us’ opened a deep sectarian silence.
“There’s a box of stuff in the corner there, that’s been used in previous years,” offered Nuala, “But it’s just things left over from the past, you know?”
Big Sean was nearest to the box and obligingly heaved it onto the table. He peeled back the masking tape and opened the lid. A green glow reflected off his face.
“There’s not a thing wrong with this stuff,” Sean remarked as he unfurled first a Tricolor and then a huge plastic cloth all covered in shamrocks and leprechauns. The box spewed green, white and yellow bunting and balloons of similar hues. There were yards of cloth that Eithne insisted were metres of cloth. The last thing out of the box was a banner imprinted with the words:
“It’s not damp or anything!” exclaimed a delighted Sean.
Jimmy Boyd damned near swallowed his tongue. “Are you a bannock short of a bakery, Sean? I don’t think many ‘Wee Frees’ would come in and dance under that banner!”
“Sure the ‘Wee Frees’ won’t come anyway.” asserted Liam Legge. “They don’t dance and they don’t drink. We’d never do anything at all if we had to avoid offending the ‘Wee Frees’.”
Nuala felt pandemonium take a step closer. “Listen a minute!” she shouted and to her surprise everybody did. “It’s true enough maybe that none of that section of the community will turn up on the actual night; and could we try not to use any more pejorative terms?” She looked daggers at Jimmy and Liam. “But it still has to be for them. They don’t have to dance or drink alcohol; there’ll be soft drinks, but this stuff would scream at them that they weren’t welcome at all, and I won’t have that, not while I’m in the chair!”
Murmurs of approbation were heard round the table.
[Author’s note] In Ireland, the term “Com’allye” is pronounced all of a piece. It refers to a certain type of sing-along ballad that has many, many verses, like “The Black Velvet Band” or “Delaney’s Donkey.” The drunker you get, the more verses there are, and nobody gives a damn about the words! The genre is epitomised by Tom Lehrer’s “Rickety-Tickety-Tin.”
Copyright © 2009 by Oonah V. Joslin