‘None of us would be here if me granny had drowned that day’

Ge­orge is of­ten back in his na­tive Dun­dalk, where the dra­matic near- drown­ing of his grand­mother is his favourite tale

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Áine Ryan Daddy, de­men­tia and me

Daddy doesn’t care about what hap­pens to him after he is dead. He says why would he give “a shit about some­thing he has no con­trol over”.

“Sure I won’t be around to know, Áine, so what does it mat­ter?” I say it does mat­ter. He in­sists it doesn’t. I sug­gest he might like to be buried in Dun­dalk where he grew up: where his mammy and daddy are in­terred; where his favourite Aun­tie Brigid (“the only per­son who ever gave him real love when he was a child”) lies with her Cu­mann na mBan pin; where there was an old IRA ri­fle salute when grand­dad died back in 1969; where th­ese days Daddy wan­ders in the nooks and cran­nies of his mem­o­ries.

Here in his nurs­ing home in the wild west of Co Mayo, he is of­ten back in his na­tive town on the east coast mitch­ing from school; se­cret­ing him­self in the gallery of the Redemp­torist church to read the epic tales of the apos­tles and the dis­ci­ples: down there on the road to Da­m­as­cus with Saul, al­though this age­ing rebel never took that U-turn to be­come a goody-two-shoes. (Ha­los were never part of Ge­orge’s modus operandi. Still aren’t. Ask any of his car­ers.)

In­stead, he is hop­ping up on his bi­cy­cle and head­ing off on the five-mile jour­ney to the sea­side vil­lage of Black­rock to hide in the sand dunes and smoke butts of Car­rolls Num­ber One cig­a­rettes; or join­ing Cúchu­lainn and the Tuatha de Danann over there across the bay in the Coo­ley moun­tains, de­fend­ing the sa­cred bull, Donn Cualigne, from the ma­raud­ing Queen Medhb of Con­nacht.

When the ad­ven­tures were over for that school day, he would re­turn home, as if freshly churned but­ter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, with his satchel over his shoul­der and his se­cret life stashed in the re­cesses of his vivid imag­i­na­tion.

Al­though some­times, on his re­turn from bat­tle, he would stop on the Point Road at Aunt Brigid’s house – the last thatched house in Dun­dalk and still in fam­ily own­er­ship. There, amid slices of soda bread and that mag­i­cal coun­try but­ter, his imag­i­na­tion would be un­leashed again with his spin­ster aunty’s tales of real ad­ven­tures and hero­ism. One of which had par­tic­u­lar poignancy. It de­cided Daddy’s fate – well, very ex­is­tence – and, in­deed, mine.

It is the tale of how An­nie Roddy, his granny and my great-grand­mother, was saved from drown­ing by her own brother on a stormy evening in Dun­dalk Bay in Au­gust 1884.

She was from the Coo­ley moun­tains and reg­u­larly took the small ferry across the es­tu­ary to Dun­dalk to do her shop­ping; walk­ing down the Point Road past the thatched house which would ul­ti­mately be­come her home.

Too dan­ger­ous

On this fate­ful sum­mer’s day, with her shop­ping com­pleted, An­nie re­turned to Soldier’s Point to dis­cover the river was in flood and that the elderly fer­ry­man de­cided that con­di­tions were too dan­ger­ous for a cross­ing.

How­ever, head­strong al­ways – Ge­orge didn’t take it from the wind – An­nie per­suaded a coast­guard to trans­port her across the teem­ing es­tu­ary in an old punt, which quickly proved its un­sea­wor­thi­ness, be­came swamped and cap­sized. Nei­ther of them could swim, so they des­per­ately held onto the stern and the bow, with my great-granny’s lay­ers of long skirts act­ing as a buoy. For more than three hours, the two screamed for help as the boat drifted out to­wards the open sea.

Dra­matic tale

In a dra­matic twist of fate, they were ul­ti­mately washed up on the walls at the foot of the light­house on the edge of the bay. Be­fore col­laps­ing, An­nie Roddy made one fi­nal des­per­ate shout for help which her brother, the light­house-keeper, heard.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the dra­matic tale made head­lines in the Dun­dalk Demo­crat and The Ir­ish Times. The or­deal didn’t dis­suade the bould An­nie Roddy though.

Un­de­terred by her near-death ex­pe­ri­ence, she con­tin­ued her weekly shop­ping ex­cur­sions across Dun­dalk Bay to Sol­diers’ Point, strid­ing down the Point Road where along the way a courtship de­vel­oped with young Thomas Pa­trick Hearty of the thatched cot­tage.

Nat­u­rally, this tale’s dra­matic de­noue­ment is a favourite of Daddy’s. Th­ese days, when prompted, he likes to tell it while re­clin­ing on his nurs­ing home bed, his eyes half-closed and his hands in­ter­twined.

“Did you know, Áine, that none of us would be here if me granny had drowned that day in Dun­dalk Bay?

■ Above: Here in his nurs­ing home in the wild west of Co Mayo, Ge­orge is of­ten back in his na­tive town on the east coast mitch­ing from school; Right: A re­port on the res­cue of Ge­orge’s grand­mother in ‘The Ir­ish Times’, Au­gust 16th, 1884.

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