A FAM­ILY AL­WAYS ON SONG

No 68 was home to arias and Ali Baba, Ave Maria and Aladdin, says Miriam O’Cal­laghan. And now it’s gone

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FIRST PERSON -

In­ever spoke about what hap­pened in our fam­ily. It didn’t go on in the homes of my friends. Or, not that I knew. But, in ret­ro­spect and it be­ing Cork, it was prob­a­bly wide­spread: The Singing.

Not your re­spectable Dean Martin, Perry Como or Si­na­tra, though they fea­tured. My fa­ther did a pho­net­i­cally per­fect a la Tino Rossi. I’m talk­ing ac­tual arias. Verdi, Puc­cini, Donizetti, Balfe. On the big litur­gi­cal feasts, or around a death or an­niver­sary, there’d be

On my fa­ther’s side, The Singing hap­pened in the old O’Cal­laghan kitchen at “68”, his child­hood fam­ily home, an el­e­gant, dou­ble-fronted dis­tillery house on Blar­ney Street. One bed­room had a view to the har­bour. Good for the soul. It also had a view of a fa­ther re­turn­ing from work. Good for the body: a bril­liant, hand­some man, my grand­fa­ther had a short fuse, a long reach.

The gar­den was high-walled, ap­ple­and-pear-treed, slip­ping, then tum­bling, to the Lee. There were tea-roses for de­vo­tions to the Sa­cred Heart; Easter lilies late enough for May pro­ces­sions. In fam­ily pho­tos, the same flow­ers bloom for 50 years. The yard hosted a lux­ury bath­room: wall­pa­per, lou­vred doors, swifts nest­ing in its porch.

Across the street lived my fa­ther’s aunt, Lil. Once pos­ses­sor of the ex­clu­sive con­tract to stitch the silk lin­ing of the Aus­trian na­tional ski-team’s gloves.

My 68 mem­o­ries are a pick-and-mix of sil­ver gleam­ing on the side­board, a Bar­bie in a black-patent, dress-up case brought from Amer­ica by un­cle Tom, no blood rel­a­tive. My cousin Eli­nor flash­ing pan­stick as she ar­rayed her­self in orange silks and harem pants for an Aruba Cough­lan bal­let. maybe. Or Desert heat in the grey, tidal Fa­ther Matthew Hall, site of Vik­ing mas­sacres, up­river from Ford and Dun­lop, where wages were good, lunches were eaten in the mid­dle of the night, limbs were sev­ered.

Men streamed down proud North­side hills to the night shifts in both. Their ham sand­wiches in Or­mond and Ah­ern sliced-pan wrap­ping; tea and sugar in brown pa­per; their wives send­ing them

Tristesse, Pa­nis An­geli­cus; Ave Maria. Ali Baba. Aladdin,

out Im­pe­rial Leather-ed, spot­less. While most whis­tled, some sang arias. Out loud. No self-con­scious­ness. No white coats. This was Cork, and if you didn’t sing a bit of ca­sual opera on your way to work, sure, you were no­body.

I know now that a man who lived near us was a fetishist. He’d cap­tured the vo­cal chords of a woman, stored them on black plas­tic, plea­sured him­self with them day and night. Es­pe­cially when he was do­ing the gar­den. The woman was Joan Suther­land.

In 68, my aunts and un­cles each had their piece; the Sun­day con­cert fill­ing the hour’s fast be­fore Com­mu­nion. In truth, they fasted for an hour be­fore Mass. You could never be too care­ful.

So here’s my fa­ther as Cavara­dossi. My aunts and un­cles as Mimi, Vi­o­letta Valery, Ger­mont Pere. Un­cle Con’s

wraps it up. Then lip­stick, hats, gloves, brooches are put on, per­fume and in­halers sprayed, aftershave slapped, ties straight­ened be­fore go­ing hell-for-leather down to Mass in Sun­day’s Well, where they’re in the choir. Palest­rina putting a stop to their sec­u­lar gal­lop.

Now, all those O’Cal­laghans are dead. Of that com­pany, only my mother and aun­tie Theresa re­main. They mar­ried in.

But my mother’s side, too, was mu­si­cally af­flicted. She, her­self, had a beau­ti­ful voice. Her mother turned down the chance to study in Italy, mak­ing an op­er­atic life in Cork by mar­ry­ing a gam­bler in­stead. At din­ner time ev­ery week­day, af­ter a stuffed heart or a nice bit of tongue, at 20-to-two ex­actly, her son Der­mot would stand at the kitchen press and sing

from Then he’d race back to work, re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tions of the Krups and Brauns, con­ti­nen­tal in­dus­tri­al­ists with agents ea­ger to steal him and his com­mer­cial magic from Cork Ra­dio and the semi­aris­to­cratic FitzGer­alds. To­day, his grand­daugh­ter is mak­ing an op­er­atic name for her­self in Scot­land. Suzanne Mur­phy is one to watch.

Num­ber 68 was sold last Christ­mas. I’d love to have bought it. It keeps the mem­ory of the singers, the song­lines of what mat­ters: kind­ness, courage, dig­nity, loy­alty, fam­ily.

Love? You could sing it, boy.

My Song, Vi­o­letta Hand Is Frozen Hear Your Tiny La Bo­heme.

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