I took my parents out today. My retired, slightly eccentric Irish parents. We went to Birmingham where they lived for forty years after leaving Ireland. They only came for one year, you know, to get a bit of money to go home with. Every year they still say they’re going back. They still listen to the local radio from home, get sent their local papers and know more people there, despite being in their teens when they left, than they do here.
But to be fair they have grown to love England too. The great roads “They’re far more sensible than the madness over there. Two hours to go ten miles only to find you’re back at the same auld place you started at.”, the NHS “Jesus you couldn’t afford to be sick in Ireland. Never mind paying to get well, it’d be cheaper to pay to die quick.” and of course the food “I had the most amazing Jamaican curry last night, had to strip down to me underpants, the fecking hottest thing I’ve ever tasted.”
As usual when we go to Birmingham, we end up at the Irish Centre, or The Irish Club as they’re now calling it. The centre for all things Irish, food, music, gossip, sport. A place for the community who came across the water in the 60’s looking for work and never went home, and of course so many new arrivals too. Most of my parents friends are long gone, buried over in Handsworth cemetery with shamrocks adorning their stones or flown home if the family were able to get the money together, to be reunited with their ancestors. We weren’t expecting to find anyone we knew there today.
In a room that would easily fit four hundred, there was only two men. Then, a tall, third one arrived. Dad didn’t know them. Well, not at first anyway. Like the Irish everywhere, the curiosity got the better of one, and he came over. “Here’s a newspaper for the lovely looking Irish girl.” (that was me *blush*) “Where are yee from?” (Standard question you’ll be asked the length and breadth of Ireland. In some places it’s a polite way of finding out what side of the turf spade you dig from. Maybe only the Irish will get this left footer reference. But mostly it’s just a way to find out more about you.)
But before long they were all chatting and knew of each other, share the same friends, knew their families, sons, daughters, weddings, deaths and location and size of homes back in Ireland. The tall, third one it seems, looked older than his years. In hushed tones, number two explained that his son had been murdered many years ago and he’d never got over it. My parents and me were at that funeral.
Tall, third one, explained it was his 70th birthday next week and was having a grand old black tie birthday party and in thanks for our kindness all those years ago he wanted us to go. “You’d be made most welcome if you were to come. See you next week.” And with that he left.
I know I’m corny and sentimental, but I love that about the Irish. Just six people in a bar and they couldn’t resist talking to each other and then the invitation. Class.