FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s bril­liant col­umn, with her unique take on mod­ern Ire­land, only in the Ir­ish Daily Mail ev­ery Wed­nes­day.

We are in the car park at Lif­fey Val­ley Shop­ping Cen­tre in Dublin, a whole big bunch of us, cheer­fully wav­ing good­bye to our chil­dren, with whom we will now not have any contact what­so­ever for 10 whole days. This is A Very Big Deal.

The Teenager has wanted to go to the Gaeltacht for years, but could never seem to find the right com­bi­na­tion of dates and friends to fa­cil­i­tate her pas­sage. But this year, at the grand old age of 15, sev­eral of her plan­ets have fi­nally aligned and she is Con­nemara-bound.

I was on this bus my­self, once, don­key’s years ago. Well, not this ac­tual bus, but a hum­ming num­ber from the end of the 1970s that took us from Dame Street all the way to Done­gal for three weeks of ceol, craic, and, as I re­call, rain. I wasn’t even 13 then — which, let the record show, was a lit­tle too young for the Gaeltacht, even at that time when chil­dren as young as 10 were reg­u­larly sent.

For all that I en­joyed it, I do re­mem­ber hav­ing a vague sense that all the se­ri­ous fun — in other words, the lovebites and the smok­ing — were be­ing had by the slightly older students. But we made our own en­ter­tain­ment nonethe­less, whis­per­ing as Béarla af­ter lights out, re­peat­ing jokes we didn’t un­der­stand, hors­ing around the dance floor at the céilís and lust­ing af­ter boys who were only in­ter­ested in tak­ing lumps from the necks of the older girls.

I can’t imag­ine any of these fresh-faced boys, clus­tered in groups in the car park and al­most all wield­ing hur­leys, tak­ing lumps out of any­thing ex­cept God’s earth, but be­cause I can still re­mem­ber the won­der­ful lib­er­a­tion that the com­bi­na­tion of the Gaeltacht and long sum­mer evenings of­fers, I’ve al­ready warned The Teenager about frisky boys. I’ve also re­minded her that she can wash her clothes — some­thing we seemed to spend an in­or­di­nate amount of time do­ing, back in our day — and she re­minds me that she’s never washed any­thing in her life and wouldn’t know where to start.

And it’s then I re­alise that for all that the Gaeltacht might seem to have been pre­served in as­pic, its clien­tele re­ally do come from an­other time. We had one hairdryer be­tween 13 of us; they seem to have each packed a hairdryer, a straight­en­ers and a curl­ing tongs. Watch­ing

‘The Gaeltacht-bound girls look like they’re headed to a disco, where some will quite pos­si­bly be danc­ing on poles’

them snake into the buses at Lif­fey Val­ley, I sus­pect most of the girls have al­ready pressed their styling de­vices into use this very morn­ing: while the track­suited boys look like they’re set for a gi­ant, three-week game of hurl­ing, the girls look as though they’re head­ing straight for the lo­cal disco, where some of them will quite pos­si­bly be danc­ing on poles.

But they have no phones — these are strictly pro­hib­ited by the au­thor­i­ties, and handed over with enor­mous re­luc­tance by the students. And that, it turns out, is the big­gest shock of all. Ob­vi­ously, we didn’t have phones ei­ther, but our par­ents had not be­come used to end­less and oc­ca­sion­ally hourly up­dates from our lives. As the buses drive off, I re­alise that I have only ever spent a cou­ple of nights at a time away from this child and, when I have, I have al­ways had easy contact with her, even if it was only through mad­den­ingly mis­spelt texts (hers, not mine).

And now she is gone, to this strange time­less place of no mo­bile phones, and I have no idea how she’s get­ting on. I miss her so much that I tidy her room and in­stead of be­ing in­fu­ri­ated by her im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of empty per­fume and nail var­nish bot­tles, I sud­denly find her sloven­li­ness en­dear­ing.

I won­der if she has washed her knick­ers and I worry that, like I did, she’ll wear them wet and de­velop a kid­ney in­fec­tion. I miss her so much that I hon­estly think there is lit­er­ally noth­ing she could do, right now, that I wouldn’t re­ward her with a be­nign smile and a rub of her beau­ti­ful hair.

I don’t say that lightly. And I only say it at all be­cause I know she’s some­where where she won’t be able to read it (and if you all agree to de­stroy your copy of this mag­a­zine be­fore she comes back, we will never speak of it again).

We will visit her this week­end, for one day only (col­lect at 11, drop back at five) and I am lit­er­ally count­ing the hours. Even if I sus­pect — and I hon­estly hope — that some­where out West, in the won­der­ful teenage play­ground that is the Gaeltacht, she is do­ing no such thing.

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