Wednesday, 30 March 2016

My National Anthem

As mentioned in a previous blog, insofar as I can ascertain, I am a distant relative of Peadar Kearney. Yes, the guy that wrote the National Anthem. According to my cousin Nicola, by paper trail and laws of deduction, Mr Kearney’s great grandmother, Mary Hickey was a sister of my great-great grandfather, our mothers great grandfather, or ‘our mother’s second cousin once removed’, making him our second cousin twice removed. You still with me ? Good, because I’m lost.

I make jokes among my fellow Kildare 1916 Commemoration Committee that if any of our key note speakers don’t turn up to an event this year, that I, given this ‘close’ connection to 1916, could easily step in. I’d just need to brush up on my history. I don’t know if it is this rather thin blood line, or the year that's in it, but pretty much every time that I hear the National Anthem of late, I choke up.

On Proclamation Day, March 15th, I visited two schools in Kildare, one where my children attend and another, with my work hat on. I heard the National Anthem three times that day, in song and on tin whistle. Having heard many a tune murdered on the tin whistle, I can’t say that I am a big fan of it, but the gentle rendition of the National Anthem played by 5th and 6th class in my children’s school was one of the loveliest that I have heard. Of course I didn’t have a tissue with me, so I wiped away the tears with my scarf. I confessed to a friend later and reassuringly, she too found it hard to hold it all together.

I am amused that my children, pottering around the house, have taken to humming the National Anthem, or half singing it, with the lyrics slightly askew (which is how most people sing it, I expect). I’m never allowed to join in though.

The emotions that the National Anthem stirs aren’t really about the present – it usually transports me somewhere else. It’s the end of the night in the Oasis nightclub in Carrickmacross, Monaghan. I’m seventeen. The National Anthem is played, followed by Frank Sinatra belting out ‘New York, New York.’ Sweaty, long haired young one, linking arms and swaying along. The full lights are turned on and the bouncers ask, ‘Are you right there folks.’ The floor is wet and sticky from spilled drink, as up to 7,000 people pour out the doors. Drunken young lads do the rounds of the floor asking any woman in their path for a kiss goodnight.

It’s Croke Park. Meath V Dublin, 1991. Four matches in a row, with three draws before Meath win the fourth. I attended three of the four matches with my father and brother. Tickets were gold dust, sourced through someone in Cork and collected in The Grass Hopper Inn, in Clonee, before the new road by pass to Dublin opened. A brown envelope transaction. With my father’s friend. Let’s call him Harry. Harry was a bachelor boy, who always wore a sports coat, shirt and tie, looking smart, until you got up close enough to see the dirt on his collar. My Dad giving a few pounds to a self-appointed ‘security guard’, with a white sailor’s hat and a handlebar moustache, to keep an eye on the car in Phibsborough. Walking through a field of people, drinking outside The Big Tree pub in Drumcondra, feeling out of place, but wishing that I was old enough to be part of it.

Did I have a ticket or jump the stalls ? I can’t remember. It didn’t matter. I was in. Standing on the Canal End and on one occasion, Hill 16, surrounded by the Dirty Dubs. Me, a slip of a thing, surrounded by gnarled faced men, smoking and spitting. Brought along in the moment, I cursed along with them, men who wouldn’t have must regard for the opinion of a young wan like me.
The Artane Boys Band march onto the pitch, sporting sharp haircuts and dapper uniforms.

And then it begins. We all stand straight and proud. Silence as the band begins to play. ‘Sinne Fianna Fáil, atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn ...’. The crowd sing along with all of their hearts, hands behind their backs, heads cocked towards the sun.
The second last line is played, ‘… Le gunna scréach faoi lámhach na bpiléar’, and the crowd erupt as we get to ‘bpiléaaaaaaar’. The county flags are waved furiously and the cheers for the respective teams drown out the final line, ‘... Seo libh canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann ...’ Game on as The Artane Boys Band file off the pitch until the next time. Oh, the anticipation.

On the way home, we call for tea in a house in Ashbourne, with ‘Harry’s bird’, my father called her. Years later, Harry went on to get married to a different ‘bird’ and his collars looked a lot cleaner thereafter.

‘My’ National Anthem will always be there in Croke Park (not that Meath have had many opportunities there of late). Where is your National Anthem ?

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